In the Mood for Love Film Review By Dima Saqfalhait
“You notice things if you pay attention.”
Set in 1962 Hong Kong, In the Mood for Love (2000) by Wong Kar-wai demands the viewers’ full attention from its very beginning, as one tries to work out how the story will unfold, only to have their expectations reversed, every single time.
Two couples move on the same day to the same building, in two apartments right next to one another. Some of their belongings get mistakenly swapped by the movers, which gives the impression, early on, that the two couples are not that different from one another. Chow Mo-wan and Su Li-zhen both have spouses that work late, or outside the country, most of the time. As a result, they are nearly absent in the film. Chow and Su though occasionally cross paths at the noodle shop as they pick up their dinner, only to eat it separately and silently in their own rooms. Naturally, you would think it’s the ideal (for lack of better words) context for adultery, no? But, it is not what you think. It is indeed a film about adultery, but not in the usual sense, nor from the common perspective. Both characters disdain cheating, which is a paradox that holds the film together and makes it the more intriguing. Especially as they find out they are both cheated on, surprisingly, by the same perpetrators.
“Feelings can creep up just like that. I thought I was in control.”
Yet, feelings do naturally evolve between them too, despite their platonic relationship. So how will they respond? The film’s strength lies not so much in its witty dialogue (although its sparse dialogue is quite brilliant) but rather in its ability to express so much love, without using the usual tools to express it. As Roger Ebert puts it so eloquently in his review of the film: ‘when you’re holding back and speaking in code, no conversation is boring, because the empty spaces are filled by your desires.’ Whether he meant the desire of the characters or those of the viewer, both certainly apply here.
The film makes quite an active participant of the viewer, in an attempt to piece together the story. So much of love can be understood by glances, frame composition and mise-en-scene, colours, and even the relation between one shot and another. With a colour palette that is predominantly red and black, the film is all about romance and unfulfilled desires. Partitions and mirrors are also an important motif throughout the film, as they constantly show characters accompanied by their own reflections, giving an impression that there’s more going on in the scene than what is visible to the eye.
You put so much of yourself in the film, and you are rewarded by a journey to a world that is so different yet strangely relatable. When I first listened to the film’s soundtrack on Youtube (way before watching the film) I was completely struck. It’s an enchanting tune that made me feel so much: nostalgia, yearning, unfulfilled desires, loneliness, and most importantly it made me feel love. Remarkably, the film left me with the same exact feelings. So if you plan to watch the film tonight, you’ll be up for a sweet treat.
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