Wong Kar-Wai’s visually stunning,”In the Mood for Love” is a film set in Hong Kong 1962, and made in the year 2000. The two protagonists, Chow Mo-Wan, and Su Li-Zhen, become neighbors where they discover that their marital partners have cheated on them. Through their mutual betrayal, they begin to develop an intimate bond, but the fear of becoming similar to their spouses causes them to avoid expressing it fully. The aesthetic elements play a strong role in broadening the viewer’s understanding of the film, because although Chow and Su remain moderately reserved, their relationship and emotions are palpable by the film’s microscopic elements.
The plot revolves around Chow and Su repressing their feelings due to societal pressures, and Wong consistently uses restricted space to demonstrate that. The growth of emotions, and lust from the characters, are clear by images with representative sensual colors. Lastly, Wong uses images with reflections and incomplete views to echo a memory, which is a common theme in the film. It is through images with limited space, figurative color, and insubstantial shots, that the perversity within the characters summits the most. Enclosed spaces reflect the way that the two protagonists often feel obligated to hold in their feelings.
When Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan converse outside on a street, they are either in the background, or against a corner along the wall making their feelings of feeling overly observed and emotionally trapped more prominent. The fear of coming forth with honesty is evident in the scene where Mr. Chow admits his feelings to Su. Firstly, the scene begins with an immediate emotional divide as Mr. Chow says he will wait with Sue in the rain, despite that she said they should not be near each other. Su falls silent after as she begins to hang her head low as she struggles with finding words.
Following their difference in desired action, there is a moment of discomfited silence as the camera captures the two leaning on the building together, but only within half the frame. The other half of the image is covered by the blockage of a building. The image conveys the fact that Su feels the pressure the most, and is unable to speak due to fear, because visually, the building engulfs half the screen, blocking off the rest of the street. Furthermore, the camera observes the two from afar, peeking from around the corner similar to a spectator ready to judge on any wrong move they make.
By the camera acting as a third person in the scene, the image strongly reflects the pressure that the two feel in the moment, especially Su. Su is afraid of the devaluation of her character that would follow if she continued the relationship with Chow. In addition, by having half of the image consisting of the open street where the couple stand, and by the other half consisting of the dark blockage of the building, it also reflects how only one of them in the moment is being open while the other remains closed off.
Chow is more upfront with his feelings than Su, as Su struggles to confront her honesty, and the image strongly reflects that. The scene concludes with Mrs. Chan crying in Mr. Chow’s arms in a pivotal moment of their relationship. Throughout the film, the audience watches in anticipation, wondering if Chow and Chan will act on their innate desires despite possible judgments from others. When Chow admits his love for Su, the moment precedes the image where they are behind shadows of bars. The camera begins to pan along the bars, watching the couple embrace from the outside looking in.
Not only do the bars trap the couple in a literal sense, but they do in the exact moment that Mrs. Chan recognizes that she is emotionally trapped as well. The image also shows how even if they attempt to act how they wish, they are still trapped within the powers of the outside world. The scene demonstrates the power of their fears because the camera, outside the bars, is able to move along the bars freely, yet the couple remain behind bars in their embrace in a tiny corner on a street. By this, the audience can recognize the amount of room Chow and Chan have for exploration of their feelings, which is not much at all.
Restriction of space allows the audience to understand the pressure the characters feel due to societal norms, despite how strong their feelings may be. Images with vibrant and sensual colors help to convey the intimate desires that the protagonists feel, but cannot express. When Mrs. Chan leaves Mr. Chow’s room, they end their acquaintance with a casual conversation, yet the tension is anything but casual. The camera captures the couple from a distance down the hallway, where the center of attention is inescapably the overwhelming amount of red.
Even Mrs. Chan wears a coat that blends seamlessly into the red curtains. The color red elicits the sexual tension that lacks due to the omitted physical affection the characters share. Mr. Chow lingers in the doorway where he is only half-visible, because he stands half in his room, and half in the hallway. His posture is similar to how the two act towards each other; they invest in one another, but not entirely. At this point in the film, Mr. Chow acknowledges his feelings more than Mrs. Chan, which is evident in their exchange in conversation in the scene.
The fact that the red accompanies Mrs. Chan from behind reflects the fact that she cannot face her feelings just yet, whereas Mr. Chow is gazing directly at her and the red that flourishes around her. The way that Mr. Chow lingers in the doorway, shows in a physical manner how his feelings are slowly gravitating towards Mrs. Chan. With this image, it is clear that all the characters need to do is acknowledge the tension that is present, and to fully let the feelings for one another flow. The red provides a sensual tension that the audience can easily recognize, even though Chow and Su are in the midst of discovering it themselves.
Furthermore the use of colour, especially the red curtains, are symbolic for the progression of Mrs. Chan’s feelings. As the scene ends, Mrs. Chan walks down the hallway where she suddenly stops in her tracks, completely frozen along with the stillness of everything else on screen. This is important to establish because it is once Mrs. Chan recognizes, and decides to act on her feelings that the red curtains in the same hallway are no longer motionless. The scene where Mrs. Chan just misses Mr. Chow’s departure, she sits alone crying in his room.
The shot immediately follows an image of the hallway where the curtains now blow freely. It is once Mrs. Chan expresses her feelings that the red curtains blow in a strong and exotic way. The way that the red curtains move in relation to the progress of feelings is no coincidence, and therefore concludes the importance of color regarding the concept of love in the film. As Mr. Chow describes in the film, “I understand now, feelings have a way of creeping up on you. ” The color portrays the reality of love, because similar to the curtains moving freely, love is uncontrollable and unpredictable.
One of the themes in the film include the prospect of memories, and Wong uses insubstantial Images with manipulated pace to convey it. Throughout the film, the epilogue of the film describes the nature of a memory very well, “As though looking through a dusty window pane, the past is something he could see, but not touch, and everything he sees is blurred and indistinct. ” Throughout the film, there are segments of the characters that reflect this ideal concept of a memory. When Mrs. Chan assists Mr. Chow with his writing, the scene occurs in slow motion along with nothing but their images reflected off a mirror.
The camera pans back and forth revealing the occasional glance Chow and Chan each give each other, but off the reflection of the mirror only. By Chow and Chan both looking at one another admirably through a reflection rather than their actual selves, signifies what memories are, a reflection of an image or person at one particular moment in time. Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan will inevitably become a memory of each other, unless they choose to acknowledge that their love is real, and Wong uses the reflection of mirrors to not only convey the uncertainty the characters see within one another, but the nature of what will happen if they do nothing.
Furthermore, Wong adds slow motion to the scene to signify the longing aspect of the unrequited love between Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan. “Nostalgia is predicated on a dialectic between longing for something idealised that has been lost, and an acknowledgement that this idealised something can never be retrieved in actuality, and can only be accessed through images. ” (Pam Cook). The entire scene comes across nostalgic, and the incomplete images are effective to cause disorientation for the viewer, which is similar to the epilogue that refers to what it is like to reflect on the past.
The scene then moves on to a different shot of Chan and Chow, a close up of their faces as Ms. Chan eats while Mr. Chow smiles at her. The shot of the couple is in a small, yet perfectly rectangular shape. The image alone is similar to an actual photograph itself, distorted around the edges yet the central focus of the picture is clear. The frame is one of the few in the film where Chow and Chan share a mutual moment of enjoyment, and it through an image that is identical to a photograph.
Wong is consistent with making the central focus of the scene on general reflections, and not the actual present bodies of the characters heightening the drama of Chow and Chan’s situation. The images in the scene help the audience understand the possibility that Chan and Chow will become a memory of one another, by displaying what it is like to endure reflecting on a memory. In conclusion, by evaluating the use of the stylistic elements in particular images, it is clear that In the Mood for Love can evoke a clear picture of love with minimal physical affection, and dialogue.
The space reflects Mr. Chow’s and Ms. Chan’s constant struggle with restraint, as they feel they have no room for exploration of their emotions, and the audience is able to recognize this from Wong’s consistency of directing in areas that limit space. Furthermore, the directorial choice to implement particular colors with important emotional marks of the characters enhances the beauty of their emotions, and how they progress. Finally, Wong uses images that echo a common flashback, to establish the reality of how memories work. The story of the film resolves in a beautifully heartbreaking way, as each authentic image insinuated throughout.