Wong Kar Wai’s Hong Kong film In the Mood for Love premiered in May of 2000 at the Cannes Film Festival in France. Wong, a Hong Kong Second Wave filmmaker, had already attained some status internationally, but this film solidified his presence as an international auteur. The film was well received and was even nominated for the Palme d’Or. Since its release, the film has received much critical acclaim. Much of the charm of the film derives from the nature of the filming style and plot, which leaves much of the content to the imagination of the viewer. Because much is left unsaid, many interpretations can be made about the film. This makes the experience of watching it not only emotional, but also intellectual. While In the Mood for Love may not be the most intense or suspenseful film, it certainly makes the viewer think about the nature of human relationships and how quickly they can change.
The film opens in Hong Kong in 1962 with the two main characters and their respective spouses both moving into the same apartment complex on the same floor. The leading male, Mr. Chow played by Tony Leung who can often be found in Wong Kar Wai’s films, and the leading female, Mrs. Chan played by Maggie Cheung, are both often seen alone because their spouses have jobs that require them to either consistently work overtime or to be out of the country on business. Over the course of the movie, the two characters begin to realize that their spouses are having an affair with each other. In the midst of their domestic relationships crumbling, they develop a new relationship with each other as they try to imagine what led their spouses to becoming closer. The pair then has to manage a secret relationship and try to rise above their own significant others. The reason why much of this film is left to interpretation is mainly because the nature of Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan’s relationship is never clearly established. They are often seen together trying to help each other get past their hardships with some undertones of romantic feelings, but it is difficult to tell whether or not they have a sexual relationship. This lack of an obvious dynamic between the two characters actually makes the film more intriguing and allows the viewers to decide for themselves just how close the two characters became.
Another aspect of the film that adds to its overall quality is the style and the mise en scène of the shots. In many of the scenes, much of the area on camera is obstructed in some manner. Some examples of this include scenes being shot through a mirror, being shot in a narrow hallway, or being shot through bars. Filming the scenes this way makes them feel cramped and almost uncomfortable for the viewer, which may be a reflection of the emotions of the main characters. The characters may feel trapped or claustrophobic, either in their relationships with their spouses or in their newfound relationship with each other. Adding another layer of obstruction is how much the two stand out in these scenes while their spouses are never completely seen, instead being occasionally heard talking or are partially viewed. Being a stylistic choice by Wong, it is up to viewer to figure out why he does not want these characters, who have a large influence on the plot, to be seen.
An explanation for these interesting choices in style could relate to another of the film’s themes, memory. It is stated in the film that as time passes, Mr. Chow does recall the events as clearly as he once did. This could mean that the reason why the shots are cramped and some events are not clearly seen is because it is a visual representation of the idea of having an inaccurate memory. It may be that the events the viewer sees are the events that Mr. Chow remembers clearly with the main characters standing out because he remembers himself and Mrs. Chan more fondly. While this is only one way to interpret the film, the theme of memory can be found throughout the film, mostly toward the end. In the Mood for Love is an interesting story about a romantic relationship, but its most intriguing quality is how much it leaves the viewer to interpret for themselves.
In the Mood for Love. Dir. Kar-wai Wong. Block 2 Pictures, Inc., 2000.
“In the Mood for Love.” IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 23 Mar. 2014.