In the Mood for Love
This movie with it’s lush colours, close-ups, costumes and cinematography remind me not of a beautiful love story but of a melancholic one. The movie focuses on the story developing between two protagonists living right next to each other in Hong Kong. Many argue it is a beautiful story of heart-wrenching love, however I believe it is a story of heart-wrenching loneliness.
The movie begins with these two neighbours moving into a tiny apartment. They soon find out their spouses are cheating on them with each other. Due to this, they feel dejected and alone. The set exemplifies their loneliness as both of them live next to each other in a small crowded and filled apartment and yet have no one to talk to. Paradoxically they feel so alienated in a place so filled with people. The place has many couples, they even live right next to each other, but they are yet alone. A scene which shows us how lonely they actually are is when Mrs. Chang almost never has dinner with them. She would rather walk out in the rain to get her food, then be with the people at her apartment.
The other aspects of design in the set also signify the desolate lives of the two protagonists. The set uses pathetic fallacy, as it is constructed to reflect the inner turmoil of the characters. The place is a sad, cordoned off, closed and tight apartment with no outlet or place to breathe. Just like that the two characters have their feelings bottled up tightly inside themselves, not allowing themselves to open up at all. I’m not only referring to the feelings of abandonment and loneliness they are harbouring, but also the feelings of love they seem to be brewing for each other. The set gives the audience a feeling of claustrophobia, they are feeling, with everything just being kept inside them. Like there’s no space to breathe because it’s so stuffed with unsaid words and emotions.
Other than that the set also shows how they keep missing opportunities to be together. Even though they are right next to each other, they won’t be together because of pressing social norms. Their close apartments highlight the extremely cliched but true phrase of being so close but yet so far. This means even though they are emotionally close, they are not together and physically so far. I think that’s what makes this movie so lonely, because throughout the movie, the cuckold neighbours together develop feelings and relationships. They make each other happy but they are not allowed to spend time together. This is highlighted by the specific music that plays every time they are in love, or are thinking about each other. The instrumental music, is heart-breaking because it is soft, melodic and sets a mood of love, but contrastingly shows of the couple can never be together. It’s always the same music, the continuos repetition to show how they will always end up the same way, apart from each other. They would sacrifice companionship because of their moral standards. ‘They can’t be like their cheating spouses’, they keep saying. It’s sad to see how and what one would give up just to be morally correct.
Another factor contributing to the overall theme of loneliness, is the way this movie is shot. The movie seems to be short in lurking corridors, narrow alleyways and stuffy apartments. Also there are many close-ups and certain angles where it feels like someone is spying on the couple. When they are hiding out in Mr. Chow’s apartment, it feels like we are looking at what is happening from a hidden camera. It adds to feeling that they might be doing something wrong. The fact that the Mr. Chow an Mrs. Chang are lonely comes across because of the idea of corridors, alleyways and long, empty spaces. It puts forward the idea that loneliness like the places the movie is shot in, is a long, winding road that seems to have to end. In the movie, a scene which highlights this is her endless amount of trips to the noodle shop. She walks down to the shop which is in a thin alleyway, and never has a trip to get noodles ever been sadder. She slowly walks down, the never ending steps to loneliness and noodles. Also when Mrs. Chang & Mr. Chow keep crossing when they go to buy these noodles, which shows how their paths not only on that day but in life will always be like this. They will always be parting their ways despite really being together.
Also the other character, Mr. Chow’s friend acts as a foil. He is everything that Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chang aren’t. He flouts the rules, he gambles, he is poor and also admits to being disloyal. However despite his flaws he is in fact content and happy, something none of the protagonists are. Devoid of following any social obligation he is happy and honest. In one scene it is ironic to see how he so easily admits to having a crush on the beautiful Mrs. Chang, where as Mr. Chow has much difficulty even acknowledging this fact. This friend is uncertain of his life, and its outcome but does everything and anything he wants. It is a stark contrast to what Mr. Chow is doing or in fact what he isn’t doing at all.
Also even at the closing scene of the movie, there is a conversation between these friends where they discuss how they deal with secrets. His friend shamelessly says he rids them of one way or another, or doesn’t have any. But Mr. Chow so full of sorrow and regrets has to go empty them into a hole in a tree. Then he fills it with mud and soil. Thus we see the difference between the two and also the difference in how they feel.
This movie, is an acquired taste, which gets much better after you think about it and see it again and again. It is a true representation of a story of love and loneliness. More often than we agree, this is the result of how two people’s lives end, when we have moral and social rules. Even though they were the victims, they couldn’t do what has been done to them. The fact yet remains that in acting, they started really feeling. Every movie shows us how love is everything and is easy to achieve, however this movie sheds light on the loneliness, loss, heart ache and the truth everyone faces.