Review: In The Mood For Love

Although the title of the film may be the cause for the expectation of a fantastical romantic story, In the Mood for Love is a much more realistic and toned down narration. The protagonists, despite suspecting infidelity from their spouses don’t indulge themselves. They don’t go into fits of rage. In fact, the most emotional scene is when Mrs.Chan cries to herself while showering. The film is subtle and the relationship between the two is not outright, but grows as an undercurrent through the film.
Despite the heartbreak of being cheated on, there grows a kind of compassion between Su, and neighbor Mr.Chow which eventually leads to their own version of love. In the beginnings of the film, both seem shy of each other but often find themselves meeting at the nearby noodle stall or outside their homes. It seems as if the universe itself wants them to be together. However, they are quickly reminded of their indiscretion and avoid talking for too long. In one scene, Mr.Chow’s hand rests on the door frame and his wedding ring is in sharp focus as the two exchange pleasantries.
However, these shy bump-ins turn into discreet meeting for dinner and Mr.Chow even asks Mrs.Chan to help him write martial arts serials for the paper. At their first dinner together, they are so shy that they discuss buying gifts for their spouses—almost fooling themselves into believing that the meeting was just a friendly one. Despite the fact that there is barely any physical contact between the two, the neighbors soon suspect their blossoming friendship and force them to meet at hotel rooms away from their building. Although in today’s age this seems an almost paranoid decision, it highlights the time in which the film was set and how that keen, conservative eye of society has slowly shut over the years.
Through the film one notices how only the two main protagonists seem to be in the focus of every shot while others’ stories are more obscured. In fact, the respective husband and wife of Mrs.Chan and Mr.Chow are completely hidden from the camera. One only feels their presence when their voices waft from the inside of the apartment or when the characters mention them. Similarly, changes in Mrs.Chan’s mood are symbolized by her dress sense, which changes from solid, dark colours to brighter floral prints.
Another interesting part of the cinematography is the way in which the two are pushed into their romance. Their building is small and always buzzing with people and activity, and while at work they are apart, but the shots are tight which almost pushes them closer and closer together, physically and metaphorically. Their romance seems to now stem from forced togetherness. Even when they meet, the cramped space is highlighted by the camera angle, which feels like it is almost peering out from behind clutter. A large mirror reflects the better half of Mr.Chow’s small apartment while he sits on a stool and allows Mrs.Chan to sit on the bed. In the narrow corridors, they are squashed against the walls as they brush by each other.
In contrast to this, the end of the film has longer shots of their living arrangements in Singapore, and Chows last scene in Cambodia, where they are separated by distance and time. No longer do they bump into each other at the end of each day. This again seems to highlight the basis of their ‘love’—because they both survive many years of separation and Mrs.Chan even upholds her marriage vows, and has a young son too.
The romance between Mrs.Chan and Mr.Chow occurs over a lengthy period of time, and the film controls time with the help of its iconic soundtrack. The same violin track is played as a bridge between scenes, compressing the time but also making us aware that the relationship between Chow and Chan has grown a little stronger. It forces viewers to rethink what has just occurred in the scene as well as provides breathing time before the next one. The only major change in this track is when their relationship seems to become ‘official’ and instead a Spanish song plays, symbolic of an undercurrent of passion between the two. Another indicator of time is the clock that is usually shown while they are at work. At first it seems like it symbolizes the monotony of their lives; the boredom of their routine but eventually it turns into being a marker of time spent apart. They go about their ‘boring’ routines as a cover but there is a palpable sense of tension that is relieved when they return to each other at the end of the day.
Overall the movie is vastly different from the romance ones we see today. It works on the little games played between those who feel for each other but cannot express themselves. The film uses the subtleties of their interaction to give the general feeling of romance which can be felt at the end of the whole 90 odd minutes. The secret romance blossoms, then lives a hesitant life and finally wilts into melancholy, leaving viewers with a yearning for the ‘happy ever after’. Though the feeling isn’t satisfied, it once again strikes that the ‘fling’ was an untapped romance that might have been able to finally blossom into the passionate fantasy if only that keen conservative eye had been shut for a little while longer.

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