‘In the Mood for Love’: A Lesson in Longing

This essay is by our guest writer, Liz Hew.

For those unfamiliar with the works of Hong Kong-based filmmaker and auteur Wong Kar-Wai, it would be easy, at first glance, to assume that his most well-known feature, In the Mood for Love (2000), is an uncomplicated tale of courtship and romance. However, in Wong’s narrational realm, the thematics of love are rarely delivered without the entanglements of repression, guilt, and pain — familiar nuances of the human condition that afflict his exquisite and complex characters universally. One can argue that In the Mood for Love isn’t so much a chronicle of the innocent love that grows between strangers as it is a contemplation on longing; the agony of letting opportunities slip past, the rumination of “what ifs”, and the arresting sense of finality.

The protagonists at the heart of the story, Mr. Chow (Tony Leung Chui-Wai) and Mrs. Chan (Maggie Cheung Man-Yuk), engage in a tentative yet sensual dance throughout the film’s entirety to its swooning score (mainly a recurring leitmotif of “Yumeji’s Theme” performed by Shigeru Umebayashi), and the cool timbre of Nat King Cole’s Spanish tracks, “Aquellos Ojos Verdes” and “Quizás, Quizás, Quizás”. Both characters remain apprehensive of baring their true feelings to one another until it’s too late — yet their trepid concealment eventually transpires to a flirtation that at times, balances dangerously on the cusp of a real, forbidden love affair. It’s Wong Kar Wai’s command of framing his characters’ poignancy and yearning from intense repression (both self-imposed and societal), married with the richly evocative cinematography of his frequent collaborator Christopher Doyle, which lends In the Mood for Love its haunting emotional resonance.

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