“In the Mood For Love towers over any of its contemporary features and rests in the golden annals of celluloid history as one of the greatest films made about love and the longing for it. As the film wants to say, believe it or not, love is immoral in its purest form and In The Mood For Love is an apotheosis of the same.”
“I am accustoming myself to the idea of regarding every sexual act as a process involving four persons. We shall have a lot to discuss about that.” – Freud
The great Sigmund Freud’s musings on love and sex from a psychoanalytical point of view form the central theme of Wong Kar Wai’s masterpiece, In the Mood For Love. Released in the year 2000, the film is widely regarded as one of the greatest romance movies ever made. The plot concerns itself with the life of two neighbors who move into adjacent rooms as tenants on the same day. Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan discover in the course of their acquaintance that their spouses are having an affair with each other. Instead of confronting them about the affair, the two try to understand and deliberate how the actual connection was made by formulating a sequence of attempts to entice each other as their spouses. Despite their resolve to keep the relationship platonic, the two concede to their feelings and fall in the same predicament as their spouses. This is one of the highlights of the film and one of the many reasons, which makes this movie so incredibly special.
It’s a heralded fact that the movie took over 16 months to shoot, with the director working with its two magnetic leads to devise scenes and write dialogue on the fly. This exorbitant amount of time reflects in the film’s perfect framing, with each scene constructed with the care of a midwife and realized with the precision of a surgeon. It is no surprise really that the film has managed to remain so impactful and resonating even after so many years of its release. Right from its soulful writing and impeccable acting, to technical aspects, that is the background score and cinematography, In the Mood For Love triumphs with a colossal chant. A noticeable feature of the film is the use of frames within frames. Apart from the mechanical square of the camera following the main characters, the frequent use of frames of windows and doors is unique and fulfills the purpose of the characters under scrutiny from their older landlords and the dogmatic temperament of the people in the society.
Every second of the film compels you to engage emotionally and empathize with the characters’ pain and sorrow. Almost every time that Mrs. Chan and Mr. Chow exchange pleasantries and pass in silence, Wai slows down proceedings and fuels the scenes with the iconic music theme by Yumeji, almost like a throwback to old Bollywood movies, just a hundred times better. This not only embellishes the experience and makes it visual and artistically sumptuous, but also dissects the tension that wraps the two each time they see the other. It is almost like a game the two play, with each knowing about the other person’s awareness of the ongoing relationship between their respective spouses. The lack of exactitude in terms of a definitive timeline makes sure that the audience pays attention to every little detail, from the color of the walls to length of the drapes, just the way Wai made the film. An example of the same from the film is the way Wai purposefully frequents the characters’ visits to the noodle stall. This not only saves screen time but also is indicative of the characters’ loneliness and the fact that they eat and spend their nights alone. Without being too overbearing, Wai concretely wrestles the juxtaposition of the idea and wields the scenes in an individual sense with the strength to speak a thousand words. Despite the characters not even touching each other physically, the movie mounts enough intimacy and sexual nuance that Fifty Shades Darker couldn’t with all the BDSM and Dakota Johnson.
In The Mood For Love presents a deviation from Wai’s style that he effectuated previously in his films. In comparison with his equally stunning and brilliant ‘Fallen Angels’, you actually get to know how meticulously Wai endeavored to perfect his framing. The contrasting styles present a different outlook of the main characters. Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan suffer in silence, refusing to disrupt their perfect lives and their flawless reputation, while Wong Chi, the protagonist of ‘Fallen Angels’, is wholly and utterly unconcerned with how society sees him and pilfers his actions. Wai’s films frequently feature protagonists who yearn for romance in the midst of a knowingly brief life and scenes that can often be described as sketchy, digressive, exhilarating and containing vivid imagery. It is bewildering really how Wai transiently mocks the audience in empathizing with the nearly upright Mrs. Chan and Mr. Chow and their longing for each other. Despite going out of wedlock and falling in love with each other, the two are painted as suffering protagonists, and without realizing that the two have become the same as their spouses (despite Mrs. Chan saying at the start: “We’ll not be like them.”), the audience despairs their incompleteness and gives into its emotions.
Framing plays a huge role in the film. Without explicitly hinting toward the nature of the relationship between the two, the narrative remains ambiguous and doesn’t reveal if the two are themselves or reenacting their spouses’ liaisons. Scenes like these are indicative of the fact that it’s just not two people, but four romancing and trying to woo each other: the characters and their version of the alter-ego of their respective partners.
It is this trail of a confusing motley of scenes that keep the audience guessing and attached to the story. It’s quite possibly the reason that Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan don’t realize when they have fallen for each other and with whom: each other or their versions of their spouses. Believe me, it is confusing, something that the film manages to perfectly represent. They blur the lines between reality and imagination to find themselves actually longing to consolidate their relationships. The non-use of the first names of the characters represents the universality of the thematic undertones of the movie. Wai goes to the extent of not even showing the faces of the spouses of Mrs. Chan and Mr. Chow, thereby making sure that he isn’t making the ordeal a personal one.
Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung inhabit their characters with effortless ease and a jarring sense of discomfort that stings and gradually grows, as the movie progresses. The movie can also be related to the absence of protagonists, and rather the presence of two antagonists veiled as sufferers of a human being’s titillating tendencies, something like ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’. The two leads absolve themselves of trying to do a lot, instead proffering to do as little as possible and express their anguish, despair, and longing for love with their faces. Every grimace, every gander is captured with perfection by the actors in portraying these two innocent victims of infidelity and how they come ashore with reality.
In the Mood For Love towers over any of its contemporary features and rests in the golden annals of celluloid history as one of the greatest films made about love and the longing for it. As the film wants to say, believe it or not, love is immoral in its purest form and In The Mood For Love is an apotheosis of the same.