20 Years Of In The Mood For Love: 20 Images From Wong Kar-Wai’s Exquisite Imagination

A celebration of the meticulously framed, consciously composed, and lushly symbolic imagery
20 Years Of In The Mood For Love: 20 Images From Wong Kar-Wai’s Exquisite Imagination

Wong Kar-Wai's In The Mood For Love chronicles the story of Mrs. Chan (Maggie Cheung) and Mr. Chow (Tony Leung), who have rented rooms in adjacent homes of two older couples. Shot by Christopher Doyle, and Mark Lee Ping Bin, the film is set in 1962 Hong Kong, brimming with overcrowded apartments, still a British colony. 

Soon the two, embodying a mannequin-like beauty, find out that their respective spouses are pursuing an affair with each other. Instead of attempting revenge, or pursuing an affair of their own, they try to recreate how the two would have gotten together, and fallen in love. They role-play their spouses' adultery, till the reality of it hits them- that perhaps they too are falling in love. 

Wong Kar-Wai began shooting this film with only a skeletal outline. It was over the course of the 15 months of shooting that this film was given shape and weight. An alternative climax too was shot. Armed with Wong Kar-Wai's infamous eye for silhouettes and frames, this film too is a thing of lush, atmospheric beauty. It premiered at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival, where Tony Leung was awarded Best Actor, the first Hong Kong actor to win this award. Released in Hong Kong on September 29, 2000, it has been 20 years since the film's release. 

To celebrate this, we have curated twenty timeless frames from this film that capture the simmering desire between two people who, perhaps, will never be one. 

Framing And Composition

This film is notorious for its framing. Often you see the characters through a frame, either a window, or fixtures. It gives a sense of you being not just a viewer, but a voyeur. This is a conservative society and Mrs.Chan is chastised by her land-lady about being more responsible in her youth. You constantly feel that the couple is being watched. It lends tension to an already tense plot, just waiting to unravel with one statement. 

The composition and lighting too adds this mysterious sense of a world that is slipping by. Mr. Chow is constantly lighting cigarettes, the smoke forming thick clouds, the deep purple wallpaper in his house, and the mirrors- doubling, and tripling the frustrated, frustrating, singular, lonely figures. Each portrait of the characters is singular in its emotive depth. Though Wong Kar-Wai uses similar shots from similar angles again-and-again in the film, he infuses his characters with something unique to cut through this routine. 

"Feelings can creep up just like that. I thought I was in control"

Mr. Chow tells Mrs. Chan this line in a moment of breakthrough and breakdown. They pursue their love chastely, despite being in seedy red-lit hotel rooms, they just sit across and discuss Mr. Chow's serial story. 

"They are in the mood for love, but not in the time and place for it."

This line is from Roger Ebert's review of the film. It captures the almost-ness of the couple. They almost end up together, first in Hong Kong in 1962, then in Singapore in 1963, and finally in 1966 Hong Kong, where now residents are fleeing as Mao takes on rapid strides in China, its aftershocks felt in Hong Kong. The place they fell in love with is no longer the same, the people, though are still there, unfulfilled, alone. 

A Deep Secret In Your Heart

There's a foreshadowing conversation between Chow and his best friend Ping

Chow tells him, "In the old days, if someone had a secret they didn't want to share… you know what they did? They went up a mountain, found a tree, carved a hole in it, and whispered the secret into the hole. Then they covered it with mud. And leave the secret there forever."

The film ends with Chow in Angkor Wat. He is in Cambodia to cover an important event as a journalist. He whispers something into a crevice of the 900 year old temple, and stuffs mud with grass in it.

In the alternative ending shot, before this scene Wong Kar-Wai has Mr. Chou and Mrs. Chan serendipitously meet at the Angkor Wat. Why did he cut it? Does it make the end seem more hopeful? That they'll meet again- only to part ways… again. 

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