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In the Mood for Love (2000) Review: Melancholic Romance Unfolds!

Su leans against the wall as Chow watches him intently in this scene from "In The Mood For Love".

In “In the Mood for Love,” two neighbors in 1960s Hong Kong form a close bond as they navigate their spouses’ infidelity and their own forbidden feelings.

Exploring Emotions and Visual Perceptions

Wong Kar-Wai’s In The Mood For Love is a cinematic masterpiece that Quentin Tarantino counts among his favorites. The film is a poem written by Wong Kar-Wai and read through his camera, which can be likened to small boats that continue to sail in the serenity of sadness. These boats take their passengers to different ports each time, creating new destinations but also highlighting the fact that there are many other ports in existence. In this film, the lights serve as indicators of emotional states, while the camera angles reflect our unconscious visual perceptions.

Su and Chow share a joyous moment, with Su taking a bite of something in this scene.

Numerous scenes in the film are shot with different framing angles, and the use of frames within frames creates an observer’s perspective for the audience. This observation can sometimes evolve into a feeling of surveillance. These frames and independent scenes are repeated continuously, with the frames remaining the same, but the events or situations within them changing.

Symbols of Tension and Forbidden Love in Film

Su (Maggie Cheung) and Chow (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) frequently use the stairs to get noodles or eat there. Although the stairs remain the same, Su and Chow’s emotions and energy towards each other change every time they meet. Sexual tension is immediately evident when they first meet on the stairs, and their proximity causes them to lean towards the wall. The feeling of being caged and trapped also arises, mirroring their living situation in the apartment.

Su looks effortlessly glamorous in this still from "In The Mood For Love", lying on the bed with a cigarette in hand, while Chow prepares to smoke on the floor beside her.

According to Sigmund Freud, going up or down stairs can be a metaphor for sexual intercourse, and another motif that represents it is narrow corridors. In this film, the narrow corridors and stairs in their apartment are where Su and Chow have their closest moments. Although sexual tension is evident in these scenes, there is always a boundary between the two characters, sometimes a wall or a dining table. The walls in their living space symbolize men, while the rooms represent women, highlighting the forbidden nature of their love.

During their first meeting, they discuss objects such as a bag and a tie. According to Freud’s psychoanalytic theory, the tie can be viewed as a representation of the male sexual organ, while the bag can be a symbol of sexual satisfaction. Su’s boss, Mr. Koo (Man-Lei Chan), wears the tie that his wife gave him as a gift, but later changes it. When Su asks him why he did so, he replies, “The new one was more eye-catching. The old one was better.” This scene can be interpreted as a metaphor for infidelity through the tie.

The film “In the Mood for Love” presents the fundamental human tendency towards habituation, despite initial curiosity towards novelty. The character Su recognizes that his new tie has already become an old one, and when asked how he noticed, he replies simply, “If you look closely, you’ll understand.” Similarly, Su and Chow have carefully examined their lives and have come to understand certain truths about themselves and their spouses. The absence of the spouses’ faces in the film highlights their absence as characters in this story, and emphasizes the focus on Su and Chow’s personal journeys.

Expressing Emotions through Color and Lighting

Although presented as a dark love story, director Kar-Wai transforms the film into a colorful narrative through the use of lighting. The primary color used is red, which is commonly associated with sexual desire and love in cinematography. The secondary color of yellow is also utilized, which best represents the film’s themes of betrayal, love, and compassion. This color evokes the basic emotions of the film’s theme.

Su's melancholic gaze dominates this still from "In The Mood For Love", with her eyes cast downwards, set against a backdrop of deep red.

The orange lighting that is often seen in the characters’ apartment complex symbolizes socialization and the societal aspect of their lives. The social dynamics of the characters are constantly in flux and they are always in communication with each other, which is highlighted by the orange lighting. The green color of the plates and cups used during meals and coffee breaks represents danger and conflict, which is the complete opposite of the red color, and becomes a signifier of dramatic tension. In this environment, Su and Chow often remain silent, but their movements create a new language in their interactions.

Overall, the dimness of the lighting and darkness of the outdoor scenes accentuate the ambiguity and melancholy of the love shared between the characters. Chow’s cigarette smoke in moments of anxiety becomes an essential element of the film. Su’s Cheongsam, with its colorful patterns, stands in contrast to his character.

In Wong Kar-Wai’s masterpiece “In the Mood for Love,” the inner emotions of the characters are expressed in a unique way and carried throughout the film as a powerful emotional journey. The use of color on objects is just as important as lighting, as seen in the red curtains in the hallway leading to Chow’s new room, which symbolize the ongoing sexual tension between Su and Chow that will never come to fruition.

Detached Characters in Film: Slow-motion and Emotional Realities

One of the film’s techniques is slow-motion, used particularly in crowded scenes, accompanied by the background music, to convey the characters’ inner voices and their detachment from the outside world due to their sadness. Su and Chow’s games, trying to unravel how their spouses met and began their relationships, gradually turn into a reality that sets them apart from the rest, as they declare they won’t be like them, and they never are, either when they’re together or apart.

Chow stands with his back turned in this still from "In The Mood For Love", surrounded by cigarette smoke, creating a melancholic ambiance.

For Chow, his spouse’s relationship’s origin becomes meaningful, as he learns how his emotions suddenly came into existence, surpassing physical intimacy and embodying a complex emotional state. Despite being categorized as a romantic film, there is not even a single kissing scene, but Wong Kar-Wai cleverly depicts traditional Chinese culture by showcasing Su’s neighbors’ criticism of her for spending too much time outside and coming home late at night.

Love and Melancholy in Traditional Chinese Culture Film

The movie takes us on a journey from Hong Kong to Singapore and finally to Cambodia. The main characters, Su and Chow, live in Hong Kong and are constantly struggling with the feeling of being trapped like birds in a cage. However, when they arrive in Cambodia, they experience a sense of freedom they haven’t felt before. In the alternative ending scene, even as they walk and talk in Hong Kong, they still convey that same feeling of being trapped in a cage, with their breaths being the only thing that separates them.

In this scene from "In The Mood For Love", Su is seen looking out of a window, lost in thought while holding a glass of water.

Chow shares a story with a man he meets in Singapore about a love that he thought he would never experience again, and later on, he experiences this love first-hand in Cambodia. He tells his secret to a small hole in a temple wall, and the hole begins to sprout greenery, symbolizing the beauty of the emotions he whispered. The love and affection he unexpectedly feels for someone in a moment he never expected it, is reminiscent of a flower that blooms between the cracks of pavement. This reveals that there is always a time for love, and it can be found in unexpected places.

In conclusion, In the Mood for Love is a masterpiece that explores the complexity of emotions and how they can manifest in unexpected ways. The film takes the audience on a journey through different countries and settings, using various techniques to convey its message. The film is a must-see for those who appreciate the beauty of a well-crafted story that explores the depths of human emotion.

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Last modified: May 12, 2023