In the Mood for Love, analysis

Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love initiates its audiences to confront bitter, yet mundane sentiments of doomed and ill-fated romance through the equipment of narration via causality, and film form via mise-en-scène, predominantly lighting and camera work- framing and shots. The film allows viewers to experience the possibility of ‘what could have been’, a notion resulting from our humane tendency to dissolve ambiguity and rationalise what we cannot control. 

Focusing on the segment proceeding the ‘HONG KONG, 1966’ on-screen title, as Mrs. Chan returns to her old flat to visit the landlords, viewers are left disoriented and confused as to what happened off-screen between the initial 1962 ‘chronological-ity’ and the current 1966 scene. We are faced with an extreme gap in time where causality can no longer substitute for undocumented span, as the length of four years is far too great to assume, especially when contrasted with the precursory shots of the clock, which had enabled viewers to keep track of the continuity in some respect. Audiences are thus, forsaken to fill in the blanks purely through analysing ‘mise-en-scène-ic’ elements such as lighting- a cinematic element, Wong Kar Wai deliberately embeds into each scene, not only for intentional, but also subjective interpretation. 

Inspecting the predominant setting of the film, the rented flat, which was presented mainly through artificial, dim lighting, projected from yellow bulbs in ceiling lights or desk lamps, revealing the congested and suffocating nature of the societal expectations on the protagonists’ and thus, their inability to act upon what would've been deemed as scandalous or taboo affection, is now contrasted with the 1966 view of the flat; lit with natural lighting projecting through windows, hinting at the change the main characters have undergone over the undocumented years. Majority of the film and the protagonists’ relationship is set during late hours of the night, symbolic of danger, vulnerability and risk and the onset of this segment is the only time audiences are subject to a refreshing aura of the subtle, soft glow achieved through organic lighting implying acceptance- the impression of having had experienced a sense of freedom through character development facilitated by acknowledging that some things are perhaps just not meant to be and that moving on may be the only viable option.

Within the following few moments of that scene, audiences are met with the other half of the story- Mr. Chow, heading towards the flat. The scene progresses to him being framed within the window case, a frame-within-a-frame technique, as the camera is placed where Mrs. Chan had stood mere plot- second ago. With the window rails, closer to where the camera is situated- blurred- imitating the focus of Mrs. Chan’s eyes- of what she would’ve seen, or perhaps had longed to see when she stood there. The camera displays not only the physical distance that resides between the two leads now- across from but unable to see one another- but also the metaphorical distance in terms of the abandoned emotional connection. However, the concept of forsaken bond does not translate into a lost one, as the camera equips the rule- of- thirds and situates both characters in the rightmost third of the frame, regardless of plot timing. Both characters appear in the same physical position, signifying the indestructible bond that has brewed amongst their desire and longing for what causality forbade them to pursue. 

As the scene progresses, Mr. Chow is shown departing the flat only to decrease his pace as he approaches Mrs. Chan’s door. The close- up shot is angled to reveal his side profile- focused, melancholic and sorrowful. He doesn’t look straight ahead of him, rather his gaze is lowered, almost roleplaying a fantastical reencounter with Mrs. Chan, a concept that is substantial to the plot and their affair, with the door to her old flat, now impersonating her. The camera frames this tight- shot, in an intimate manner, almost ‘too-close-for-comfort’, replicating the familiarity of tension the protagonists had experienced throughout the film contained within narrow hallways and congested corridors, provoking lust but prompting caution, with the reappearing of lack of natural lighting, equating to flashbacks.

However, within mere seconds, the same frame is shot from a different position- now capturing Mr. Chow’s back, equipping a medium shot, allowing for him to get lost amongst the overwhelmingly vertical and warm-lit setting, alternative to the preceding, constricted frame that supplied detail, hinting at the following on-screen title that translates to “that era has passed”. The distance created by the contrasting camera positioning elicits a ‘fade away’ effect, notifying audiences that the following segment will be comparable in terms of disoriented feelings and inability to rely on causality, just as this segment had initially established. 

As In the Mood for Love comes to an end, viewers are signalled that the protagonists’ lives are no longer coexistent and will likely never be. Cause and effect in the characters’ lives forbade them to pursue one another and that's just their reality now, regardless of their longing. Mrs. Chan and Mr. Chow now exist unparalleled but adjacent to one another. They live through the reminiscent of unachievable, ir-replicable, yet indestructible memories. 
Wong Kar Wai’s film, not only depicts a tragic romance but teaches its target audience through that depiction, to work towards an ‘organically- lit’ character development of their own, by tugging at heartstrings and invoking personal memoirs, In the Mood for Love stands to communicate that accepting mundane realities of uncontrollable circumstances, which, although bitter and heart wrenching, has its mortal delights in the fact that they are inimitable humane experiences. 

By Aastha. 

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