Those of us whose minds have been invaded and turned to sponge by Wong Kar-wai’s movie In the Mood for Love must roam the blighted earth for all eternity, forever wondering how Maggie Cheung found cupboard space in her tiny Hong Kong rented room for at least a hundred complete changes of cheongsam, each more perfectly cut than the one before to show off the elegance of her figure, above which her exquisite face… but I shan’t go on. There is also the question of how she ever became attracted to Tony Leung, who eats very noisily. To the Chinese, noisy eating is not impolite, but Tony Leung eats as if he were trying to change the minds of a thousand million people. Though Wong Kar-wai claims to have been influenced by Hitchcock’s Vertigo, a more likely model for In The Mood For Love is Brief Encounter, if you can imagine a remake directed by Antonioni in his Deserto Rosso period, when he was painting apples purple to make them look more tedious. Continually going nowhere by several different interweaving routes, the story is held together by three main elements; the quiet lushness of Christopher Doyle’s cinematography, Maggie Cheung’s physical perfection, and Michael Galasso's soundtrack, which borrows eclectically from several variously incongruous sources to include songs from Nat King Cole’s Spanish repertoire and (the ace in the hole, and the reason why we’re here) Yumeji’s Theme.
This poisonously addictive stretch of music, which crops up at full length eight times in the course of the movie, was first composed by Shigeru Umebayashi for Seijun Suzuki’s batso ghost-opera Yumeji, but Wong Kar-wai was right to believe that it would draw the drifting elements of his own scenario together like a spray of magic cement. People with a musical training might find the underlying rhythmic figure too unvarying to be tolerated, but the overriding melody is endlessly compulsive, just like a love affair that can’t get started. The real subject of the movie isn’t passion, but frustration, and Yumeji’s Theme is the kind of thing you whistle when you try to convince yourself that love come to nothing can still mean something. To achieve his fatalistic texture, Wong Kar-wai played havoc with the personality of his leading lady: I once interviewed Maggie Cheung over lunch (she made a lot less noise than Tony Leung) and I can vouch for her merry spirit, which in this movie is ruthlessly suppressed. In a screenplay whose most exciting line is “I’ll go for those noodles”, merriment was never going to show up in the dialogue, but we might have seen it sparkle in her lovely eyes. Instead, all we see is loveliness. The film is fetishistic about beauty, and I suppose Yumeji’s Theme is too, which is why they fit together so well. Anyway, the theme is on YouTube with two different visual accompaniments, one of them a production still and the other an unofficial trailer compiled from fragments of some of the main scenes. Personally I prefer the one with the still, but some viewers might want to see Tony eat, so I provide both versions here as a public service. The music is the same in each case. It has been scientifically proved that if you listen to it every day for a week, you won’t have to see the movie again for at least another year.