The film “In the Mood for Love” takes place in Hong Kong in the year 1960 – two neighbors Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chang discover that their respective spouses are having an extra marital affair and begin a concealed ‘relationship’ of their own.
On screen, we see the two characters not only as themselves but also as their disloyal spouses, as they re-enact imaginary scenes and conversations that might have taken place between them. Perhaps an irrational approach to seek answers, this seemed like a sound way for them to find out the origins of their spouses’ affair. The scenes in the film feel erratic because of the breaks between two scenes; this heightens the gap in the relationships between the couples in the film and also is symbolic of unspoken words and suppressed feelings.
It is ironic that the title of the film is “In the Mood for Love” because the two immensely frustrated characters are desperately in the search for love, but because of time and circumstance, they do not end up together.
At first, the film may appear to be about a potential romance between two acquaintances; however, the film goes far beyond matters of infidelity. The nature of the film could have been erotic and highly explicit but the director’s decision to not focus on the sensuality made the relationship more intimate. Understanding the characters and their feelings becomes challenging for the viewer in some parts, but the audience is definitely able to empathize with the two of them. The characters Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chang express themselves less through dialogue and more by the means of their body language – sighs, long gazes, and awkward small talk are actions that fill the gaps of loneliness.
While creating an atmosphere of the 1960s, the soundtrack helped illustrate the variation in the distance of the relationship between Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chang. It seemed as if the two characters were brought together by the lack of presence, love and attention of their spouses, and the background score made every moment feel delicate and miraculous.
There is an exceptional piece of instrumental music that repeats through out the entire film – called “Yumeji’s theme” and the way it has been used is very interesting. Each time the piece of music induces into the story, the two characters are often together doing something that brings them closer to each other, or are just about to meet, whether by chance or guiltily planned.
The initial appearances of the rhythm seem to foreshadow the events that are to come; the piece frequently fades out far before the main melody has a chance to develop. With each encounter, the music fades out much later as their relationship becomes more intense.
The piece of music runs parallel to the film’s narrative; the plot’s tragic flaw becomes clear in the end of the piece. The film focuses on the ambiguous nature of their relationship and the music mirrors the same; the music has a clear sense of what is going on which is the reason it is simply played in parts and not entirely at first.
The momentum of this film is that the two characters cross paths but their intentions rarely do. Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chang are filled with feelings of longing and desire because of their spouses’ infidelity. They seem to mutually decide that they would not end up like their respective spouses; however, over time the two develop feelings for each other. As the film progresses, time is passing by and neither one has the courage to accept the truth and give into their feelings.
“In the Mood for Love” has been filmed in a remarkably unique, artistic style. The movie emphasizes on the subdued colors and textures seen in various compositions throughout the film – warm colors such as yellows, greens and browns, with soft saturation of skin tones and profound shadows.
The director has paid very close attention to detail when it comes to set design – delicate interiors, decor, and fine costumes are contrasted with the ambiguous narrative of the film, full of allusions, exploring subtle changes in Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chang’s relationship.
It rains repeatedly when the two are together in the film. In my opinion, rain is a symbol of sadness, separation and a new beginning – it seems to foreshadow what is to come in the latter parts of the film.
It is interesting to see where the two lovers meet and the composition of shots that are filmed around them. The two often cross paths on the staircase and sometimes simply talk on the sidewalk. Often, the scenes open in long shots in which the primary focus is something else and the characters are revealed later. For instance, there is a scene that is shot in the corridor outside the two apartments, the focus constantly shifts between Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chang, emphasizing on how they are so distant despite being so near.
The scenes in “In the Mood for Love” are mostly filmed in closed and confined spaces such as cramped rooms and narrow hallways. These imperfect, restricted perspectives are all metaphors for secrets, hidden desires and passion, which the two characters Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chang suppress because of the constraints in time.
The series of traditional floral dresses that Mrs. Chang wears suggests the change in mood and also brings out the development of feelings, maturing of the relationship and the passage of time in the film.
In the film, we only hear voices of Mrs. Chang’s husband and Mr. Chow’s wife and see a glimpse of their behinds a few times. The literal absence of the spouses allows Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chang to become closer and for us to notice the different stories running parallels in the film. The presence of mirrors when they role-play as their respective spouses, subtly hints at the fact that not one but two couples inhabit the same space at the same time.