To illuminate the origins of In The Mood For Love 2001, we have to travel back to 1997. In an interview with Wong Kar-Wai published in the Hong Kong paper City Entertainment in April 1997, he mentions a new project called Summer In Beijing and also mentions that he had wanted to finish it until the July 1 deadline, on which Hong Kong would be handed over to China. But he also makes it clear during the interview that the deadline was unlikely, making Summer In Beijing his first post-handover film. (1)
There are conflicting stories as to what Summer In Beijing was supposed to be about. Tony Rayns claims that it was planned in conjunction with Happy Together. As such, it was supposed to form a diptych much like Chungking Express and Fallen Angels had turned out to be. While Happy Together was about going to Argentina, Summer In Beijing would be the lighthearted second part of the diptych and would be set in the heart of the motherland. (2) Stephen Teo sees the roots of Wong’s later film 2046 in Summer In Beijing and writes that at “some point during the process, the project transmuted into a futuristic story about Beijing and was given a new title, 2046.” (3)
And while the origins and the evolution of Summer In Beijing’s story aren’t quite clear, the fate of its original, non-futuristic incarnation certainly is. As it turned out, things didn’t go quite as planned. While it hadn’t been a problem for Wong to shoot Chungking Express and Fallen Angels in Hong Kong without a script and even without filming permissions, his way of working wasn’t welcome in the mainland. The Film Bureau responsible for permitting a film to go into production didn’t pre-approve any film that didn’t even have a script. (4) In the end, the project was abandoned and moved back to Hong Kong. All that remains of Summer In Beijing now are some posters that show Tony Leung in front of the National Museum of China at Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Interestingly, not only him and Maggie Cheung were announced to star in the upcoming film, but also Takeshi Kaneshiro, whom - as we know - hasn’t starred in a Wong Kar-Wai feature film since 1995’s Fallen Angels.
|Summer In Beijing promotional posters|
At this point you may ask yourself what all this has to do with In The Mood For Love 2001. Don’t worry, we’re almost there. Unable to further develop Summer in Beijing as he had wanted to do, Wong crafted some new ideas. Eventually and apparently with the help of Maggie Cheung, he came up with a project called Three Stories About Food:
“I was in Paris doing promotion for Happy Together and had dinner with Maggie [Cheung]. […] We hadn’t worked together since Ashes Of Time and she hadn’t worked in Hong Kong in a while. Over dinner, she said ‘We should do a film together.’ She wanted to work with Tony [Leung], who was her first partner from her TV debut.
I said, ‘Why don’t we do a collection of stories, and both of you will play all the characters.’ ‘And what would be the topic?’ she asked. ‘How about food?’ I was reading a book The Physiology of Taste by the French gastronome, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, whose famous quote was, ‘Tell me what you eat and I will tell you who you are.’ There was also a quote that said, ‘The pleasure of the table belongs to all ages, to all conditions, to all countries, and to all areas: it mingles with all other pleasures and remains at last to console us for their departures.’ It was a perfect theme for our project, which had the working title Three Stories About Food.” (5)
In an interview at Cannes 2001 with Gilles Ciment, Wong Kar-Wai elaborates further on the historical and cultural background of the project:
“The idea was to have three stories which described the way food affects people. The story happened in Chinese communities and was about Chinese people. Since the 1970s, I think there have been two inventions which have changed Chinese and Asian life in general. One is the rice cooker; the second one is instant noodles. It used to be that women would have to spend lots of time at home cooking for their families. Without the rice cooker you have to spend hours in the kitchen. After we got rice cookers, the women had more time for themselves.
And then, as in In the Mood for Love, people used to go out for noodles. It was like a family outing, because they lived in a very small space. So they needed an excuse to go out at night to have a cup of noodles. Actually, it wasn’t the noodles, but they wanted to get some air. After we got instant noodles, people didn’t go out for noodles anymore. And so the last story is about fast-food shops. We can see that a lot of people now, especially the young people, don’t care about cooking. They prefer to go out.
The three stories are from different periods in Hong Kong, and we can see that the roles of men and women have changed a lot because of the habit of eating.” (6)
Had the project been completed, the film’s three stories would have been about (a) a kidnapper and the person being kidnapped, (b) a man and a woman, neighbours, whose spouses are having an affair and (c) a fast food shop owner and his customers. (7) If the second story sounds familiar to you, well, that’s no surprise. This is the story that eventually became In The Mood For Love. While filming that one, the “film got longer and longer and eventually we decided to forget about the idea of having three stories and just focused on the one.”, says Wong Kar-Wai. (8) But as it happened, Wong had already completed the third episode by the time he decided to expand the second story to a feature film. Eventually, it is this episode that was shown at the Cannes Film Festival in 2001 under the title In The Mood For Love 2001. Wong Kar-Wai goes into further detail about the genesis and story of the episode in the aforementioned interview from 2001 as well as in an interview with John Powers from 2016:
“[…] the short film we’ve just seen is supposed to be the last [episode]. It’s like a dessert. We shot this short film in the first two days when we started our production. So it took only two nights, then we finished it, and then we worked on the main course, which is In the Mood for Love. But somehow In the Mood for Love became longer and longer, it has noodles and it has a rice cooker in it, but it became a film in itself. Actually, when the [Cannes] festival told me that I had to give a lesson here, I didn’t have any lessons. I don’t have anything to teach people because I don’t think I’m a good example. We made a lot of mistakes. So I want to share my experience with you, and I think it’s better to show you the way we make films and the process we have to go through. So we showed the short film in the festival.” (9)
“We shot the first story in an all-night convenience store in Central. Late at night, it was a natural stopping place for broken hearts and lost souls. The place reminded me of Edward Hopper’s painting, ‘Nighthawks’. Tony played the owner who had a hobby, which was collecting the keys customers would leave behind, the remnants of broken promises. Maggie played a woman who’d left her key before, but then comes back, very upset. She gets drunk and wants to eat whatever food he has. He’s only got cakes left and she eats them, one after the other. After the last piece, she passes out with a bit of frosting on her lip. This bothers the owner, who is very tidy and keeps an immaculate restaurant. He wants to clean it off of her, but instead of a napkin, he uses a personal touch. We shot the whole story in 10 days and started prepping for the next one. […] The first story that we shot eventually was shown as a short film at my master class in 2003 [sic!] under the title In The Mood For Love 2001, which a few years later was developed and became My Blueberry Nights.” (10)
Wong’s two reports obviously differ in detail: Two days vs. ten days of shooting and first vs. last episode. I would conclude that he simply meant that the fast food shop episode was the first one to be filmed, although it was always meant to be the dessert that ends the film.
All in all, with the materials available, the genesis and content of In The Mood For Love 2001 can be reconstructed quite accurately. There is one question that remains: Why hasn’t Wong made this film more available to the public eye? Obviously, it would have been a nice bonus feature on home video editions of In The Mood For Love or even My Blueberry Nights, which it was the inspiration for. There is no definite answer, but there are two guesses. The first one comes from Tony Rayns who attended the screening at Cannes. He suspects that Wong never cleared the rights to use Bryan Ferry’s cover version of the song In The Mood For Love (which apparently is heard during the short film). (11) I doubt that this is the case, since that recording was a big part of the promotion of In The Mood For Love (the feature film) and was part of the trailers and the soundtrack albums. My guess would be that Wong Kar-Wai considers In The Mood For Love 2001 an unfinished project. One that probably pales in comparison to its bigger sibling, In The Mood For Love, the feature film. That’s how I take his comment during the 2001 interview, that in filmmaking, he makes a lot of mistakes. Maybe he only presented the short film in order to discuss the process of filmmaking, to give the audience a glimpse of a project that was completed but then discarded and turned out to be just one step along the way.
I will leave you now with three film strips from In The Mood For Love 2001 that appear in the book The Cinema Of Wong Kar-Wai. They are the only visual material from the short that I know.
|three film strips from In The Mood For Love 2001|
(1) Teo, Stephen (2005). Wong Kar-Wai. World Directors. p. 114.
(2) Rayns, Tony (2015). In The Mood For Love. BFI Film Classics. p. 58.
(3) Teo, Stephen (2005). Wong Kar-Wai. World Directors. p. 114.
(4) Rayns, Tony (2015). In The Mood For Love. BFI Film Classics. p. 58.
(5) Kar-Wai, Wong; Powers, John (2016). The Cinema Of Wong Kar-Wai. p. 155.
(6) Brunette, Peter (2005). Wong Kar-Wai. Contemporary Film Directors. p. 124.
(7) Kar-Wai, Wong; Powers, John (2016). The Cinema Of Wong Kar-Wai. p. 155 and Lee, Wai-Ming; Lee, Micky (2017). Wong Kar-Wai. Interviews. p. 125.
(8) Kar-Wai, Wong; Powers, John (2016). The Cinema Of Wong Kar-Wai. p. 156.
(9) Brunette, Peter (2005). Wong Kar-Wai. Contemporary Film Directors. p. 124.
(10) Kar-Wai, Wong; Powers, John (2016). The Cinema Of Wong Kar-Wai. p. 155f.
(11) Rayns, Tony (2015). In The Mood For Love. BFI Film Classics. p. 93.