The movie In the Mood for Love, 2000, directed by Kar Wai Wong is set up in Hong Kong 1962. The movie starts with a young, attractive woman Mrs. Chan, talking to her land lady over renting an apartment. As soon as she is done, a young man, Mr. Chow, in a suit with his hair sleeked back, yet looking timid, rents the apartment opposite hers. Here starts the poetic love story of the two.
“It is a restless moment. She has kept her head lowered to give him a chance to come closer. But he could not for lack of courage. She turns and walks away.”
In the Mood for Love. Focus Feature, 2000. Film.
The movie is about an innocent affair between Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan, both married and being cheated on by their spouses. Yet the movie and the relationship between the two is not hurtful and deceptive, but is subtle, elegant and respectable. The visual factors contribute a lot in emphasising on the beauty of love and innocent hearts.
The sets are designed in a chic, vintage style; with mint green worn out walls, floral printed lampshades, and light pastel curtains. The apartment of the landlady is always crowded and noisy, yet the director manages to draw the attention towards the protagonists even in such places. Even at the roadside noodle joint, or when the entire family plays cards, one can’t sense the feeling of being cramped and the heat, and makes the scene look pleasant.
In terms of location, the staircase is a significant place, as it gives a sense of the passage of time only by the number of times Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chow cross their paths under the same light, just wearing different outfits. Interestingly no other hints to show time passing are given, which almost makes the movie feel like stills of the same day. The weather is also shown as a constant, with the only variation of it raining at night.
Another amusing way the director plays with spaces is the use of corridors, whether it is a small one where the two encounter while moving into the apartment, or whether the long hallways of the hotel creating drama. Even though in this particular shot Mrs. Chow is alone, the attraction and the sexual tension that she undergoes is so prominent, and the fact that the two share such a chaste relationship contrasts with her feelings, yet fits seamlessly.
The music in the movie too, builds up a dialogue by itself. At certain points in the movie,the same music plays over and over again, and so strong is the character of its rhythm, that there is a forceful focus only on Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan, regardless of anything else that goes on in the background. Taking an example from a scene where the spouses of Mr. Chan and Mrs. Chan, both are present with them, yet the minute the music starts, the only thing you notice in the scene is the brief look these two protagonists share, completely disregarding everyone else. The music itself creates moments, and if one were to just see these clippings, it would create a powerful love story independently.
The use of repetition as a tool is noticeable, in terms of the music and certain imagery; such as the clock, the fan and the blue tiffin box. These three objects help the viewer identify with the places it signifies, but also has some kind of symbolic quality. For example, the clock symbolises Mrs. Chow’s office life, where one expects her to either be on the typewriter or talking to her boss’s wife. So one builds memories and connections with these objects even if they don’t see the actual action happening. The fan is significant of the apartment hall, where the family of the landlords have a meal, or play games; and the tiffin box is a sign of her loneliness, when she eats alone. As she starts spending more time with Mr. Chow, the frequency of her using her tiffin also reduces.
Additionally, the costumes, especially those of Mrs. Chan, simultaneously give clues and hints of their own. She is always seen wearing slim fit, high neck Chinese collar dresses, giving a very uptight appearance. Throughout the movie her hair is seen tied up in a tousled yet perfect up do, but at the end she’s seen with her haircut short, yet open, maybe as a sign that she’s free and has let go of her past and her husband.
The colours that she wears also progress and change with her love life. In the beginning of the movie, when her husband is in town, she is seen wearing bright blues,and red prints. But when he leaves, and she is lonesome, she wears dull greys, and maroons. However the colours, florals and bright prints make a way back into her wardrobe when she starts spending time with Mr. Chan. It almost feels like her personal style could be graphed in a way to map her love life.
Even though there is a change in the colour palettes of her costumes throughout the movie, every outfit is well synchronised with the shades around her throughout. The interiors always compliment her, with violets, light greens, blues and pastels being the dominant colours.
In contrast to the above hues, the scene in the hotel room is more eye catching than the rest of the scenes due to its palette. Mrs. Chan dressed in a red coat, running up the spiralling staircase and through the long hallway of red curtains screams out passion, fear and danger; all three emotions which illustrate the moment.
Visually, the movie is sophisticated, and muted, almost giving a feel of a still life painting to me, with everything well positioned and synchronised. ‘Delicate’ and ‘soft’ are the words that combine the way I see the movie as well as the emotion it creates.
The love story, simple yet with no ‘happy ending,’ pleases the spectator, and leaves behind a sense of nostalgia, undoubtedly igniting the mood for love.