Possibly Wong Kar-Wai’s most internationally recognised film to date, In the Mood for Love is the sequel to his 1990 film Days of Being Wild and this film continues the story of Chow Mo-Wan and Su Li-Zhen. Based on a socially-restrained Hong Kong, the Palme d’Or nominated film spans across 1962 – 1966 and is set in various cities such as Hong Kong, Singapore and Angkor Wat, Cambodia.
CRAMPED SPACES, RESTRAINED DESIRES
You thought that with a sensual movie title “In the Mood for Love” there will be frequent love and affectionate scenes but oddly enough, this title betrays us all. While the film’s cinematography has shades of red throughout to signify intense feelings and desires, we are, on the contrary, tricked and presented a society that strongly frowns upon acts like infidelity. This is the reason why neighbours Chow Mo-Wan and Su Li-Zhen encounter internal conflicts about their growing feelings towards each other. The two characters are married to their spouses but unbeknownst to them, their spouses are cheating behind their backs with each other (What a coincidence). Anyways, Chow Mo-Wan and Su Li-Zhen started noticing this extramarital affair and it is only when they met for dinner at the restaurant below did they truly discover the truth.
What started out as an attempt to unravel the coming together of their spouses escalates to an unspoken and repressed relationship of their own. The lovers are unable to express their feelings for each other and could only do so subtly in the form of cooking a bowl of sesame soup for an ill Mo-Wan and an invitation to write martial arts novels – a shared hobby of both. Despite spending days in Mo-Wan’s hotel room (room number 2046), possibly out of fear, the two did not consummate their relationship. Instead, they spend their private time crafting out ideas for his martial arts novel. Even when asked explicitly by Mo-Wan to escape to Singapore for a new future, Li-Zhen, afraid of the gossips that would strike, turns down his offer.
In this deleted ending scene, we see Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung’s characters in Cambodia crossing path and having a small talk in this spacious alleyway. The exact opposite of Hong Kong 1962, Cambodia 1966 has many empty shots and literally spaces for the characters to express themselves; they are not as trapped and pressurised by the walls as in Hong Kong. They are thousands of kilometres away from the rigid Hong Kong society but the two have not changed and are still upholding formal social norms. Unlike their spouses and Li-Zhen’s boss who have extramarital affairs, this ill-fated relationship is doomed to fail from the start.
GOSSIPS, GOSSIPS AND GOSSIPS
With strict social norms comes the rise of gossiping and this is precisely the case in In the Mood for Love. The community back then was indeed close-knitted. Neighbours playing mahjong for over a night and rejoicing over rice cookers, yeah these are moments that are rare and should be treasured in today’s society. The small-rented apartments made it possible for everyone to know each other well, sometimes too well. In that small flats, people are informed of one another’s whereabouts. Mrs Suen’s ah ma (housekeeper) is aware of exactly what time Su Li-Zhen leaves for work and returns home. While this can be seen as a caring and neighbourly act, the flip side of the coin also implies that the characters are always watched on.
The cinematographers – Christopher Doyle and Mark Lee – are also clever in the use of slow tracking shots that make it seem as though we are spying and watching every single step of the characters. The bouncy rhythm of “Yumeji’s Theme” for scenes with Mo-Wan and Li-Zhen only served as a reminder for the couple to stay grounded and in sync with the society’s social norms. it is as though any disapproved acts would only disrupt the rhythm and peace in society.
In the Mood for Love is unlike any other love story. In fact, for many viewers it may be treated as a dull film on 1960s Hong Kong and two persons. Because of its slow rhythm, the show can easily frustrate the audience and put one to sleep (it did for me when I had to watch it again for my film class) but beneath it all is a story that shows and not tell. Viewers have to speculate on the relationship between Mo-Wan and Li-Zhen. Did they consummate the relationship? Whose kid was that at the end? As per illustrated by Mo-Wan, he did not expect himself to fall in love with Li-Zhen but he did. There are no correct answers and anything is plausible and maybe that is the point. It is through the subtle changes in mise-en-scene, the music and of course our intuition that allowed us to decipher this film and I guess this is the beauty of Wong Kar-Wai’s film.