For me, music is not only for the mood, but also the sound. I came to Hong Kong when I was five, and the first things that impressed me were the sounds of the city, which were totally different from Shanghai.– WKW
Wong Kar Wai has selected a mosaic of music in this luscious film, creating a sound world of Hong Kong in the 1960s, when immigrants from China (most specifically, families from Shanghai) still retained their own local identities (dialects, food, popular music, and traditional operatic forms). Many of them believed Hong Kong to be a transient home away from China.
In the Mood for Love is a film about radio days. The collage of musical styles -- ranging from traditional opera to theme songs from popular films of the 1950s -- represents a world of music that Hong Kong people listened to and in which Wong spent his childhood.
The main love theme (accompanying the encounters between Chow Mo-Wan [Tony Leung] and Su Li-Zhen [Maggie Cheung]) is borrowed from Shigeru Umebayashi’s “Yumeji’s Theme” (from Suzuki Seijun’s film of the same title). This alluring waltz, entrancing in its string ensemble arrangement, is symbolic of the tentative, romantically intriguing steps of the male and female dancers. The dance rhythm also embodies the paradox of passion and socially conformist duties of the sexes.
All of the traditional pingtan, Cantonese, Beijing and Zhejiang operas are historic recordings by legendary performers. Of special note are two recorded excerpts (“Si Lang Tan Mu” and “Sang Yuan Ji Zi”) from 1912, performed by Tan Xin Pei (1847-1917). Tan was a major figure in Beijing opera; he also played a role in China’s first indigenous film, Ding Jun Shan, in 1905. “Hong Niang Hui Zhang Sheng” is excerpted from a Cantonese opera based on Xi Xiang Ji. Many traditional operatic plots are borrowed from Chinese literary classics, and themes of forbidden love and secret rendezvous pervade. “Qing Tan” derives from a Yueju (traditional Zhejiang opera which evolved at the beginning of the last century). The performers of “Qing Tan,” Lu Jin Hua and Fu Quan Xiang, were both known for their distinct vocal deliveries, which spurned many followers. “Zhuang Tai Bao Xi” is a pingtan narrative classic also about fleeting feelings of love.
Chinese indigenous popular music originated mainly from popular films from the 1930s onward. Zhou Xuan (1918-1957), the “golden voice” of her time, made numerous classics, of which Chang Xiang Si was filmed in Hong Kong in 1946. “Hua Yang De Nian Hua” (a featured song in Chang Xiang Si) is introduced by the opening phrases from “Happy Birthday.” It is a perfect ballad for a young woman celebrating her flower-like youth and beauty. Wong uses this song in the context of a radio broadcast, using the voice of a real broadcaster from the period. Songs from later periods include “Yue Er Wan Wan Jiao Jiu Zhou” and “Shuang Shuang Yan.”
Although Mandarin songs dominated the Hong Kong market in the 1960s, English ones were also popular (catering to the more Westernized, younger population). Rebecca Pan’s singing career is the embodiment of East meeting West, since she recorded “Bengawan Solo,” a popular song with English lyrics. Pan plays Mrs. Suen (the Shanghai landlady) in this film – she has enjoyed a long association with director Wong Kar Wai.
I met Rebecca Pan before I filmed Days of Being Wild. She is very knowledgeable about popular music in the West. And she was instrumental in introducing me to the music of Xavier Cugat. When we filmed In the Mood for Love, Rebecca let me listen to her rendition of “Bengawan Solo,” which was recorded when she was 18. -- WKW
This performance echoes “Hua Yang De Nian Hua” perfectly. It is a testament of a popular singer in her youthful prime.
We had a lot of Western music in Hong Kong at that time, and most of the band musicians were from the Philippines, so there was a lot of Latin music. In the Mood for Love features many songs popular in that period.-- WKW
There are strong Latin rhythms in many local popular music – familiar, romantic, yet exotic to Hong Kong audiences. The song arrangements are typical of those nightclub bands – romantic, soaring strings and ballroom dance rhythms (for those dancing patrons). After all, social dancing ruled that era. To recapture another segment of popular music in Hong Kong of the 1960s, Wong also uses songs sung by his mother’s favourite singer, Nat King Cole, whose recordings were imported and also broadcast on radio then.
Wong recreates his memory of radio days with new commissions too. Michael Galasso wrote the music accompanying Chow’s solitary visit to Angkor Wat, four years after his affair with Su. The sense of remorse, especially the haunting strings throughout these short pieces, complement Umebayashi’s main theme very well.
Joanna C. Lee