Review : In the Mood for Love

In the Mood for Love is a film by Wong Kar Wai that was released in the year 2000. It is a story of obstructed love by the society and their norms. It is a bittersweet tale of unrequited love and of finding solace in another person, which reciprocates those feelings but is bound by their faith. It is a different take on a love story. The film begins with a short scene, describing it as an “awkward moment” for Mr Chow and Mrs Chan as they meet for the first time in the hallway. The opening sequences states “Hong Kong, 1962” as to tell us the exact location and time the film is set in. During this entire film, we are made to pay attention to the scene; for example, when the characters are talking, the focus is given to an object so that people pay more attention to the conversation that is playing in the background.

In this film, “visual theme” or “Mise-en-scène” is used very effectively to focus the audience into the underlying story. the duality of them being together but not together sets the theme in this film. Everytime they are together, it is mostly reflection shots. Wong Kar Wai uses reflection to tell another story all together. In his analysis of In the Mood for Love, Gary Bettinson wrote:

Noir iconography invades the misc en scene: ringing telephones and doorbells remain discomfortingly unanswered; cigarettes are obsessively smoked and function as ubiquitous markers of anxiety; and at night a perpetual rainfall pounds the lamp-lined streets of Hong Kong (175).

One of the key elements of In the Mood for Love is its cinematography. The detail shots (of the phone or objects), long shots (of corridors), the edit breaks (between two scenes) really bring in the movie together. Wong Kar Wai in an interview said much of the film was shot using normal lens as it ‘seeks to avoid noticeable perspective distortions’, giving the audience the feeling of being present during the movie. He used framed close-ups to ‘convey the quality of a personal encounter’. Wong speaks of In the Mood for Love being inspired by Hitchcock’s Vertigo;

“I wanted to treat it like a Hitchcock film, where so much happens outside the frame, and the viewer’s imagination creates a kind of suspense. Vertigo, especially, is something I always kept returning to in making the film.” Being truthful to his description, he uses a variety of shots and creates suspense by using props like partitions and window grills. This can also be seen as a metaphor for portraying Mr Chow and Mrs Chan’s feelings of being trapped.

Music plays a critical role in this film. The sound of the violin creates a mod of sadness and monotony, which indeed is depictive of both of their lives. The music also marks how their relationship progresses. The music is very specific to make you feel exactly what the characters go through. The music is made and played in such a way that you really invest yourself in the particular scene and feel like a part of the conversation. ‘When Chow calls Su before leaving for Singapore, he asks her to move with him; there is no reply from her but the song “Quizas, Quizas, Quizas” starts to play, hinting that the answer is “Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps”. On many occasions the round of rain contributes to the setting of this story.

The aesthetic of the film moves with the feelings of Mrs Chow. At first, her dressing is dull and monotonous but as she starts spending time with Mr Chow; her dressing becomes more colorful, brighter and even floral. Throughout the film, she wears a ‘Cheongsam’, which is a traditional Chinese ensemble for women. Even the set of the film changes, as the scenes get brighter and colorful. She sometimes repeats her outfits, which make you, wonder if it is a continuation of a previous scene or is it an entirely different scene. The way the film is edited makes it difficult to answer this question and confuses the audience. The breaks in this scene are used effectively as it leaves a sense of mystery but the next scene reenacts it anyway. The audience always knows what happens when one scene shifts into another. The story itself has different underlying issues. There is a constant connection throughout the film.

Mr Chow and Mrs Chan reenact their spouses’ affair but the barrier is soon broken when Mrs Chan asks “Do you have a mistress?”. They are in their own relationship but they fall in love. They seek comfort in each other but soon realize what they’re doing is much worse because they have connected on a different emotional level unlike their spouses who have a rather physical relationship. Not showing the faces of their respected spouses also portrays their attitude of not caring about their partners.

The story itself being a play on its title justifies it as both of the characters crave love but don’t receive it from their respective partners. The film is beautifully depicting the feelings and state of the characters and leaves a grave impression of the viewer as they are suddenly bombarded with questions about the film and its characters.

Works Cited:

In the Mood For Love, Wong Kar Wai.

Soundtrack Review of In the Mood for Love, Glenn McClanan