Plot­less ren­di­tions

Re­vis­it­ing why we love Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love

The McGill Daily - - Culture - Sarah Shahid

Daw­son Col­lege’s Tsinema Club re­cently screened Sino­phone film­maker Wong Kar-wai’s 2000 movie In the Mood for Love. The film is about two mar­ried in­di­vid­u­als, Mr. Chow Mo-wan (Tony Le­ung) and Su Li-zhen (Mag­gie Che­ung) who dis­cover that their spouses are cheat­ing on them with the other’s spouse. To un­der­stand how the af­fair de­vel­oped, Mo-wan and Su Li-zhen de­cide to role play as the other’s spouse. Even­tu­ally, the two de­velop feel­ings for each other but are un­able to ex­press them due to so­ci­etal obli­ga­tions and their per­sonal moral grounds. The nar­ra­tive fol­lows their fate through a se­ries of un­spo­ken yearn­ings and missed con­nec­tions. The film fore­grounds a unique sto­ry­telling tech­nique for pe­riod melo­dra­mas. A breadth of his­tory and emo­tion come to­gether in a min­i­mal in­te­rior space through sound and vi­su­als.

Set in 1960s Hong Kong, the plot is pro­pelled by the so­cio-eco­nomic con­di­tions of the newly mid­dle class. The city is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing rapid ur­ban­iza­tion and im­mi­gra­tion, re­sult­ing in cramped ac­com­mo­da­tion where fam­i­lies share pri­vate space. This cre­ates a forced in­ti­macy be­tween ten­ants in the same apart­ment build­ing, such as the protagonists. The two cou­ples – the Chans and the Chows – move into ad­ja­cent apart­ments on the same day. The fate of the cou­ple is fore­shad­owed early in the film when their be­long­ings keep end­ing up in the wrong apart­ment. The in­ci­dent also es­tab­lishes the cen­tral role com­modi­ties will play later in the film.

Hong Kong’s mer­can­tile cul­ture is heav­ily re­spon­si­ble for cre­at­ing an or­ganic as­so­ci­a­tion for the two protagonists. Over the course of the movie, Mo-wan and Su Li-zhen un­cer­e­mo­ni­ously run into each other bor­row­ing books, tak­ing out food from the noo­dle shop, or ask­ing the other to or­der a rice cooker from Ja­pan. Their in­ter­ac­tions are lim­ited to the func­tion­al­ity of these ob­jects, un­til one day, Mo-wan no­tices Su Li-zhen’s hand­bag. This prompts Mo-wan to take Li-zhen out to a diner where they dis­cover that their spouses are cheat­ing on them with one an­other. They re­al­ize Su Li-zhen’s hand­bag and Mo-wan’s tie were gifts from their spouses, but also be­longed to the other’s spouse. How these props de­ter­mine the fate of the nar­ra­tive high­light the sig­nif­i­cance of com­modi­ties in Hong Kong’s so­cial life.

As the movie pro­gresses, we wit­ness the two protagonists fall in love with each other. “We won’t be like them,” Mo-wan keeps re­mind­ing Su Li-zhen. The courtship bare- ly has any other di­a­logue. In­stead, Wong Kar-wai de­liv­ers to us a bru­tal meditation on melo­drama; the film’s melo­drama comes from its emotionally pow­er­ful con­tent and the script’s fail­ure to rec­og­nize the heavy emo­tion of the af­fair. Wong Kar-wai com­bines slow waltz mu­sic and in­tri­cate set de­signs to doc­u­ment this con­flict. The rep­e­ti­tion of the mu­si­cal theme and use of bold colours il­lu­mi­nate the thrill of a love af­fair bred out of an­other love af­fair. The char­ac­ters’ strong but in­vis­i­ble emo­tions be­come ap­par­ent through sen­su­ous shots taken mid-height that fo­cus on a sin­gu­lar body part, such as the hand. This tech­nique sug­gests that the film is pur­posely re­pres­sive in form and in con­tent. The au­di­ence ob­serves Mo-wan and Su Li-zhen through mir­rors, win­dows, and door frames; some­times sep­a­rated by walls, some­times sep­a­rated by the curve at the end of a stair­case. We never even get to see the face of the spouses. The film’s form is just as frag­mented as the na­ture of the af­fair. While the char­ac­ters ex­pe­ri­ence emo­tional con­straints, spec­ta­tors feel this through nar­ra­tive and visual con­straints.

The lat­ter part of the af­fair be­tween Chow Mo-wan and Su Li-zhen be­comes rather gen­dered. Su must sneak around to avoid gos­sip. Her land­lord ad­vises her against fre- quently stay­ing out of the house un­til late. The sit­u­a­tion es­ca­lates when Mo-wan and Su Li-zhen start meet­ing at a ho­tel room to col­lab­o­rate on a mar­tial arts se­rial and they re­al­ize their de­sires for one an­other. Even this con­fronta­tion shows Su Li-zhen break­ing into tears while Mo-wan main­tains an emotionally in­dif­fer­ent stance. Fi­nally, when Mo-wan con­fronts the af­fair, he does so by of­fer­ing to run away from gos­sip. Su de­clines, cit­ing her moral obli­ga­tions as a home maker. At the end, Su is still hold­ing onto her un­re­quited love for Mo-wan and un­able to change her sit­u­a­tion. She re­mains in her re­la­tion­ship with her cheat­ing hus­band and has a son with him as well. This twist in the af­fair fo­cuses on the predica­ment of women in tak­ing con­trol of their own fate.

The com­plex­ity with which Wong KarWai weaves con­flict and his­tory makes In the Mood for Love a re­mark­able study of style and form even 17 years af­ter its re­lease. It cap­tures an ar­ray of hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence in an ex­traor­di­nar­ily lim­ited in­te­rior space. Rarely does one come across a movie ti­tle that says so much about the ex­pe­ri­ence of film watch­ing. In this film, the di­rec­tor is straight­for­ward in his mis­sion to give view­ers a mood in­stead of a plot—and that is what makes it so mem­o­rable.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.