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What is In the Mood for Love about?
In the Mood for Love offers an introspective dive into the world of unfulfilled longing and subtle expressions of desire, transcending the boundaries of conventional storytelling to embrace an emotionally resonant narrative. The film skillfully paints the picture of a world where love is not a vibrant, explosive feeling but a subdued, unexpressed sentiment that manifests in stolen glances, shared loneliness, and unvoiced longing. By doing so, it poses a poignant commentary on the nature of love and the consequences of social decorum on individual feelings.
Dressed in an elegant mid-century backdrop, In the Mood for Love explores the themes of love, fidelity, and societal norms. Instead of a typical love story where characters find solace in confessed love, it becomes an exploration of restrained emotions and missed opportunities, where even love can’t transgress social boundaries. The film examines how the protagonists, bound by the ethical code of not emulating their cheating spouses, miss out on their chance for happiness. It, therefore, illustrates how broader expectations can curtail personal desires, underscoring the tussle between societal decorum and individual freedom.
Movie Guide table of contents
- Maggie Cheung – Su Li-zhen (Mrs. Chan)
- Tony Leung – Chow Mo-wan
- Siu Ping Lam – Ah Ping
- Rebecca Pan – Mrs. Suen
- Kelly Lai Chen – Mr. Ho
- Joe Cheung – man living in Mr. Koo’s apartment
- Chan Man-Lei – Mr. Koo
- Chin Tsi-ang – Suen’s female servant
- Roy Cheung – Mr. Chan (voice)
- Paulyn Sun – Mrs. Chow
- Wong Kar-wai – Writer and director
The ending of In the Mood for Love explained
A recap of the ending
Chow secures a job in Singapore and invites Su to join him. Despite agreeing, Su arrives too late at the hotel to meet him. In Singapore, Chow shares an ancient tale with a friend about secret-keeping, involving a mountain, a tree hollow, and mud. Later, Su visits Singapore and Chow’s apartment. She dials his number but remains silent on the phone. Chow later finds a lipstick-marked cigarette, indicating her visit.
Three years on, Su inquires about renting Mrs. Suen’s soon-to-be-vacant apartment as the latter plans to move to the U.S. Chow, back in Hong Kong, visits his ex-landlords, the Koos, who have now moved to the Philippines. On learning a woman and her son occupy the Suen family apartment, he departs.
During the Vietnam War, Chow visits Cambodia’s Angkor Wat. He whispers into a wall’s hollow and seals it with mud under a monk’s observant eyes.
The movie then ends with the following intertitle:
He remembers those vanished years. 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.
And here is a more literal translation of the intertitle:
Those vanished years, as if separated by a piece of dust-laden glass, can only be seen and not grasped. He keeps yearning for everything in the past. Had he shattered through that dust-laden glass, he would have walked back into those long-vanished years.
Chow and Su’s missed connection
The missed connection between Chow and Su towards the end of In the Mood for Love poignantly underscores the film’s central themes of unrequited love, time, memory, and societal norms. Their failure to meet in Singapore symbolizes the culmination of their tragic love story marked by unexpressed emotions and societal constraints. Despite sharing an emotional intimacy, they never manage to align their paths, which lends an air of melancholy to their relationship, underlining the theme of unfulfilled love.
This moment represents of the relentless march of time and its impact on their relationship. They make plans to meet, marking a moment in time that holds the potential for their love story to finally find expression. However, this moment becomes a pivotal point of divergence instead of convergence, as Su arrives too late to the hotel.
Time, thus, emerges as a relentless force, a constant and unyielding entity that shapes their relationship, emphasizing the fleeting nature of opportunities and the transience of love. It becomes a looming presence, not only as a metaphorical boundary that they cannot breach but also as a physical barrier in the form of the clock ticking away their chances of being together.
This missed connection, catalyzed by the merciless passing of time, only amplifies the tragic poignancy of their relationship. It serves to highlight one of the key themes of the film: the way in which societal norms and conventions restrict individuals’ actions within specific time frames.
The omnipresent motif of the clock, a tangible reminder of time’s inexorable march, is particularly impactful in this sequence. The ticking clock serves as a reminder of the characters’ fleeting opportunities for love and companionship. Each tick is a poignant symbol of the seconds, minutes, and hours that keep Chow and Su apart, marking the moments they have lost and can never regain.
Su’s silent phone call
Su’s silent phone call to Chow from his apartment in Singapore is another important element in the film’s ending. This moment encapsulates their entire relationship—filled with unspoken words and suppressed feelings. Su chooses to remain silent on the call, mirroring their mutual restraint throughout the movie. This silence speaks volumes about their unexpressed love, highlighting the immense emotional depth and complexity of their relationship.
Wong Kar-wai’s aesthetic sensibilities are powerfully exhibited in this scene. This sequence, while minimalist in its action, is deeply nuanced in its visual and auditory presentation, and it serves as a microcosm of the film’s exploration of unexpressed love, longing, and the burden of societal norms.
One of Wong’s notable directorial choices is his use of framing and composition. In the silent call sequence, Wong frequently employs tight frames and close-ups to capture Su’s subtle facial expressions and gestures, amplifying the emotional intensity of the moment. His use of shadows and dim lighting helps create a mood of melancholy and longing that mirrors Su’s emotional state.
Furthermore, Wong employs the ‘frame within a frame’ technique in this scene. Su is often shown framed by doorways or windows, symbolizing her emotional confinement and the societal constraints she is grappling with. This aesthetic choice further heightens the sense of isolation and unfulfilled desire.
The scene is also notable for its use of diegetic sound. The absence of any dialogue or non-diegetic music during Su’s silent call underscores the film’s exploration of unexpressed emotions. The quietude of the scene, broken only by the hum of the city outside and the distant sound of the phone ring, enhances the feeling of distance between Su and Chow, making their unfulfilled love all the more poignant.
Wong’s use of colors adds another layer of emotional depth to this scene. The muted, earthy color palette of Chow’s apartment contrasts sharply with the vibrant reds that have been associated with Su throughout the film, symbolizing the emotional disconnect and the unbridgeable distance between them.
Chow’s return to Hong Kong
Chow’s return to Hong Kong, years after his departure, marks another poignant moment of missed connection in In the Mood for Love. By this time, Su has left the apartment where their intimate yet unfulfilled relationship blossomed. As Chow stands in the now unfamiliar setting, the role of memory in the film comes to the forefront, presenting itself as both a comforting sanctuary and a painful reminder of his unrequited love for Su.
Throughout the film, memory is explored as a complex facet of human experience—providing solace through nostalgic reminiscence while simultaneously exacerbating the pain of unfulfilled desires. Upon his return, Chow seeks out the apartment where he and Su spent so much time together. In doing so, he confronts the physical embodiments of their shared past, bringing the role of memory sharply into focus.
The apartment is a physical representation of their shared memories, their shared secrets, and the emotional intimacy they once enjoyed. It is a relic of a past brimming with unspoken love and longing, now made more potent by Su’s absence. The place once bustling with their shared laughter, secret exchanges, and stolen glances, now stands as a silent monument to their unfulfilled love.
This emotional exploration of memory is further enhanced by the recurring motif of the clock. Time, symbolized by the ticking clock, serves as a constant reminder of the impermanence of the present and the ever-changing landscape of life. As Chow navigates the familiar-yet-distant spaces of his past, he is confronted by the relentless passage of time, further emphasizing the role of memory in the narrative.
The whisper in the hollow
Chow’s act of whispering into the hollow at Angkor Wat in the final scenes of In the Mood for Love serves as a powerful metaphor, encapsulating the film’s core themes of unexpressed love, societal restraint, and memory. The exact contents of Chow’s whisper remain unknown, a secret whispered into the hollow of an ancient ruin, leaving the audience with an element of mystery and intrigue that adds significant dramatic weight to the film’s ending.
The act of whispering into the hollow resonates with the earlier story Chow shares about ancient people hiding their secrets in a similar manner. This parallel is indicative of the unexpressed feelings and secrets Chow carries within him—feelings that have been suppressed due to societal expectations and personal restraint. By whispering his secret into the hollow, Chow metaphorically unburdens himself, offering his unexpressed love and longing a form of closure.
However, the ambiguity of what Chow whispers is equally important. This uncertainty invites viewers to explore their interpretations, mirroring the film’s broader approach to the narrative. The suppressed feelings and unfulfilled desires between Chow and Su are often presented through subtleties and ambiguities, compelling the audience to perceive the depth of their emotions through subtext, gestures, and silences.
This deliberate ambiguity also adds a profound emotional layer to the film’s ending. The whisper, unrevealed and unknown, symbolizes the very essence of Chow and Su’s relationship—an intimate bond marked by unexpressed emotions, unfulfilled desires, and shared secrets. The fact that these whispered words remain a secret underscores the film’s central exploration of love constrained by societal norms and personal restraint.
The closing intertitle
The closing intertitle of In the Mood for Love leaves the audience with a thought-provoking quote: “He remembers those vanished years. 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.” This evocative text offers a window into the film’s deeper meaning and the core themes it explores.
Firstly, the intertitle accentuates the role of memory in the narrative, framing it as both a source of nostalgia and a marker of loss. It serves as a metaphor for Chow’s perception of the past—a period he can reflect upon but never reclaim. The act of looking “through a dusty window pane” suggests the distance between Chow and his memories, indicating that they are blurred by time and can’t be touched or changed, thereby underscoring the sense of longing and loss that permeates the film.
The intertitle also helps convey the film’s exploration of time. The “vanished years” imply the passage of time, emphasizing the transient nature of moments, emotions, and opportunities. This reminds the audience of the unseized moments and the unfulfilled love between Chow and Su, lending a poignant, retrospective tone to the narrative.
Finally, the closing intertitle reiterates the film’s exploration of unfulfilled desire and love. The fact that everything Chow sees from his past is “blurred and indistinct” encapsulates the ambiguity and the suppressed emotions that define his relationship with Su. This reflects the film’s central message about the unexpressed emotions and desires that are often blurred by societal constraints and personal restraint.
The themes and meaning of In the Mood for Love
Unfulfilled love stands as the central theme of In the Mood for Love. It is an exploration of love that doesn’t conform to conventional patterns but is rather a complex interplay of emotions, characterized by longing, despair, and restraint.
The psychology of unrequited love
Unfulfilled love forms the crux of In the Mood for Love, serving as the emotional fulcrum around which the entire narrative revolves. It represents not just the romantic dimension of the feeling but the unexpressed, unrequited and thus, unfulfilled facets of love that manifest subtly in the narrative.
Psychologically speaking, unrequited love represents a complex mix of emotions, ranging from longing and desire to frustration and despair. The agony of unrequited love lies not just in the lack of reciprocation but also in the pain of emotional exposure without the assurance of acceptance. The resulting emotional roller coaster can be psychologically taxing and deeply affecting.
In In the Mood for Love, the two protagonists, Chow and Su, share a mutual attraction, but their feelings remain largely unexpressed. Chow, in particular, is depicted as being more open to the possibility of a relationship, with subtle signs of eagerness and openness towards Su. His longing for a deeper connection is palpable throughout the movie, as is his struggle to maintain the societal decorum that binds them both.
Chow’s willingness to break through the social shackles can be seen as his desperate attempt to fill the emotional void left by his wife’s betrayal. His character presents a poignant portrait of the loneliness and desolation that unrequited love can bring. His heartache becomes all the more profound given the close proximity and shared understanding he has with Su.
On the other hand, Su’s consistent restraint acts as a barrier, further fueling the unfulfilled love theme. Her reservation is equally rooted in the communal norms of the time, but her reluctance to break these models deepens Chow’s sense of unrequited love. Su’s hesitations contribute to the emotional tension that underpins the narrative, adding layers to the theme of unfulfilled love.
The opening intertitle
The opening intertitle in In the Mood for Love sets the stage for the recurring theme of unfulfilled love that weaves throughout the movie. It reads:
It is a restless moment. She has kept her head lowered… to give him a chance to come closer. But he could not, for lack of courage. She turns and walks away.
The “restless moment” alluded to in the intertitle represents the shared emotional state between Chow and Su. The “restlessness” connotes their emotional turmoil— a blend of anticipation, longing, and uncertainty. They share a mutual attraction, a mutual situation, but their emotional relationship remains in limbo, their feelings suspended in the air, forever unexpressed.
When the intertitle suggests “She has kept her head lowered… to give him a chance to come closer,” it presents an opportunity for the expression of love, a moment that could potentially tip the scale and bring their suppressed feelings to the fore. However, this opportunity remains unexploited, representing the ongoing theme of unfulfilled love. The “lowered head” of Su symbolizes her subtle invitation for Chow to express his feelings, yet his “lack of courage” stands in the way. This moment encapsulates their shared emotional journey—always on the brink of confession, yet never quite there.
The intertitle ends with “She turns and walks away,” marking the final blow to the momentary opportunity for the expression of love. The act of “walking away” signifies the missed opportunities and the unfulfilled potential of their relationship. It sets the tone for their shared journey of unrequited and unexpressed love, which defines the narrative of In the Mood for Love.
This intertitle, therefore, provides a fitting introduction to the movie’s central theme of unfulfilled love, effectively conveying the emotional undercurrents that characterize Chow and Su’s relationship throughout the film. The melancholy, longing, and unexpressed emotions evoked by this intertitle foreshadow the emotional journey the viewers are about to embark on, immersing them into the poignant world of In the Mood for Love.
Wong Kar-wai’s aesthetic approach to tragedy
Director Wong Kar-wai’s approach to navigating the tragedy of unfulfilled love is remarkable and is evident in his aesthetic choices. Wong’s use of mise-en-scène, cinematography, and music significantly enhance the emotional intensity of the missed connection. His reliance on close-ups during key scenes underscores the characters’ emotions, lending an intimate quality to their unspoken love story.
One of Wong’s signature techniques is his use of slow motion, which is particularly effective in this sequence. As Su moves through the hotel corridor in slow motion, the audience is given time to absorb the gravity of the moment and the poignancy of the missed opportunity.
Furthermore, Wong uses color and light to portray the characters’ emotional states subtly. For instance, the recurring use of red, a color often associated with love and passion in Chinese culture, contrasts sharply with the characters’ restrained emotions and unfulfilled desires.
The film’s melancholic music score further elevates the emotional intensity of the missed connection at the end of the film, underscoring the tragic underpinnings of Chow and Su’s relationship. The haunting strains of the recurring theme, “Yumeji’s Theme,” echo their longing and unexpressed feelings, encapsulating the essence of their tragic love story.
Societal norms and restraint
The theme of societal norms and restraint is another prevalent element in In the Mood for Love. It is the social conventions and expectations of morality that act as the main barrier preventing Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan from acting upon their feelings. Despite their spouses’ infidelity, they uphold their commitment to communal expectations, reinforcing the idea that expectations often supersede personal emotions.
How norms destroy individuality
In the Mood for Love masterfully employs social norms as a narrative device to illustrate the destructive impact of restraint on individuality. The film is set in the conservative society of Hong Kong in the 1960s, where moral conduct and social propriety held paramount importance, especially in matters of romantic and marital relationships.
Su and Chow find themselves trapped in these societal constructs, their individual desires and emotions restrained by the fear of social ostracism and moral judgment. Despite their mutual attraction and emotional compatibility, they remain painfully aware of their social obligations as married individuals, even though their respective spouses have failed to honor the marital vows.
Their persistent commitment to these broader benchmarks prevents them from expressing their feelings, culminating in a poignant dance of emotional repression and missed opportunities. This commitment not only affects their chances of finding happiness and companionship but also erodes their individuality. They live within the confines of communal expectations, their identities defined more by their marital status than their personal desires or emotional needs.
Chow, despite his willingness to be more open about his feelings, suppresses his desires out of fear of backlash. Su, on the other hand, remains rigidly committed to her role as a dutiful wife, even as her husband neglects her. Both characters, though keenly aware of their predicament, allow social benchmarks to dictate their actions, leading to a slow erosion of their individuality.
The theme of restraint as a destroyer of individuality is also reflected in the film’s visual and narrative motifs. Su’s cheongsam, for instance, symbolizes the broader expectations she adheres to, while the recurring motif of the clock highlights the unchanging nature of their lives, dictated more by societal models than personal choices.
The role of the cheongsam
The cheongsam, a traditional Chinese dress that Su frequently wears in In the Mood for Love, is not only a symbol of cultural identity and fashion, but it also serves as a motif echoing the theme of societal patterns and restraint that forms a core element of the film.
The cheongsam, with its high neck and body-hugging silhouette, is a visual representation of Su’s character: elegant, modest, and restrained. Despite the fitted nature of the dress, which outlines the contours of the body and can be perceived as sensual, its design ensures that the body remains covered, projecting a sense of decorum and respectability. This aligns with the norms of the time, where modesty and propriety were prized, particularly in married women.
Wearing the cheongsam thus positions Su within the expectations of the era. She adheres to these rules, not just through her clothing, but also through her actions and decisions. Even as she grapples with her emotional turmoil, her conduct is always characterized by restraint and a strong sense of morality. Despite her attraction towards Chow, she continually resists the temptation to embark on an affair, firmly stating, “We won’t be like them.”
The cheongsam, therefore, symbolizes the self-imposed boundaries that Su adheres to throughout the movie. The frequent appearance of the cheongsam serves as a constant reminder of these social rules, a visual symbol of the restraint that characterizes her relationship with Chow. It emphasizes her decision to suppress her personal desires, further reinforcing the theme.
Time and memory
Time and memory form a significant theme in In the Mood for Love. Throughout the film, there is a constant interplay of time and memory, often highlighted through repetitive motifs and symbols. The characters are trapped in a time loop of their own, reliving their spouses’ affairs, practicing confrontations that will never happen, and reenacting scenarios that keep reminding them of their loneliness.
The presence of clocks
The film uses the motif of time—and, more specifically, clocks—to enhance the characters’ state of emotional stasis. The repetition of sequences, settings, and even costumes all reflect the inescapable circle of time that the characters are caught in. This repetitive pattern of life reflects their emotional state—always on the brink of change but never quite there.
The motif of the clock in In the Mood for Love plays a pivotal role in enhancing the themes of time and memory, underscoring the film’s exploration of love, longing, and regret. The persistent ticking of the clock, often emphasized during significant moments in the narrative, serves as a constant reminder of the unceasing march of time. Time, in this context, is not merely a chronological measure, but a container of emotions, memories, and missed opportunities.
Chow and Su’s relationship, defined more by restraint than by expression, develops within the frame of this ticking clock. Their suppressed feelings and unspoken words accumulate with each passing moment, amplifying the emotional tension between them. The clock thus embodies their emotional journey, charting the trajectory of their unfulfilled love.
Moreover, the clock also highlights the ephemeral nature of time. As the hands of the clock move forward, the opportunities for expressing their feelings keep slipping away, reinforcing the theme of unfulfilled love. This element of transience creates a sense of urgency and emphasizes the fleeting nature of the “blossoming years” – a nod to the film’s original title.
However, the motif of the clock serves another crucial purpose: symbolizing memory. While time moves forward, the past, encapsulated in memory, remains a constant. The clock, therefore, embodies this paradox of time – always moving, yet always constant in the realm of memory. This dual nature of the clock motif strengthens the film’s exploration of the interplay between time and memory.
For instance, the scenes where Chow and Su rehearse confronting their spouses or simulate encounters between their cheating partners are marked by the presence of a clock, linking these fabricated memories to the motif of time. These rehearsed scenarios, while not real memories, form a significant part of their shared experiences, blurring the lines between reality and imagination, past and present.
The emotional canvas of memory
Memory plays an instrumental role in In the Mood for Love, serving not just as a narrative tool, but also as an emotional canvas that adds depth and nuance to the characters’ experiences and emotions. Memories, both real and fabricated, serve as a refuge for Chow and Su, offering an alternative reality where they can momentarily escape the societal regulations that restrain them.
A significant part of the film is dedicated to the pair rehearsing imagined scenarios, effectively creating shared memories out of experiences they never truly lived. These “memories” allow them to explore their feelings, confront their spouses’ infidelity, and navigate the complicated emotional landscape that their unexpressed love has created. They find solace in these rehearsed confrontations and fabricated encounters, highlighting the therapeutic role of memory in coping with emotional trauma.
Memory plays a crucial role in showcasing the depth of their relationship, which blossoms not from physical intimacy but from an intimate shared understanding and emotional connection. Even as they resist their feelings, their shared experiences, conversations, and fabricated scenarios form an indelible imprint on their memories, further solidifying their bond. These memories become the emotional foundation of their relationship, reinforcing the theme of unfulfilled love.
The significance of memory is also evident in the closing intertitle:
He remembers those vanished years. 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.
This refers to an ancient practice where people would whisper their secrets into a hole in a tree and then cover it with mud. Chow does this at the ruins of Angkor Wat, suggesting that he’s entrusting his secrets—the memories of his unexpressed love for Su—to time and history. The closing intertitle, thus, encapsulates the essence of the film: the unfulfilled love story of Su and Chow now exists only in the realm of memory, preserved in the metaphorical hole in the tree.
Why is the movie called In the Mood for Love?
Love as a mood
At face value, the title In the Mood for Love suggests a state of emotional readiness to experience love. But in the context of the movie, it isn’t about succumbing to the giddy, all-encompassing passion that is often associated with love. Instead, it implies a subtle, understated attraction that never fully blossoms into an overt romantic relationship due to societal constraints and personal obligations. The title taps into the melancholic undertones of the film. It conveys a sense of sorrow and longing—an emotional state that is familiar to anyone who has yearned for a love that they can’t have. It’s a frustrating state of desiring what one can’t have, and this paradox forms the heart of their shared anguish.
This mood of love is encapsulated in the film’s tone, the choice of music, the use of color, and the detailed cinematography. The interactions between the characters, their shared meals, their coinciding routines—all are subtly designed to convey their mutual attraction and their emotional readiness to fall in love. However, their commitment to social decorum forces them to restrain their feelings, leaving them perpetually “in the mood for love,” yet unable to act upon it.
The title In the Mood for Love hence stands as a metaphor for the emotional state of the characters. It captures their longing for emotional intimacy, the silent, shared pain of unfulfilled desire, and the enduring hope of a love that may never come to fruition. It signifies a state of being caught between societal norms and individual desires, between obligation and passion, and between ethical restraint and emotional release.
Despite being just a phrase, the title communicates the essence of the characters’ emotional landscape with its contradictions and complexities. It portrays love not just as a feeling but as a mood—an atmosphere that permeates their lives and influences their actions. It manifests in their shared silences, their meaningful glances, their unspoken words, and their melancholic resignation to their fate.
In this context, “being in the mood for love” doesn’t necessarily lead to the act of loving. It might instead lead to a shared understanding, an emotional connection, and a profound bond that transcends the traditional boundaries of love. Through its title, the movie paints a picture of love that is as heart-wrenchingly beautiful as it is unattainable—drawing the viewers into a world where love is a mood, a longing, a silent conversation that remains largely unexpressed but deeply felt.
The film’s original title
While the English title In the Mood for Love is derived from a song and has its own layers of interpretation, the original Chinese title adds further depth to the film’s themes and overall message. The original title, translated as “the age of blossoms” or “the flowery years,” serves as a poignant metaphor for youth, beauty, and love in their most fleeting and ephemeral state.
This title embodies a sense of temporariness and transient beauty, which is echoed throughout the movie. Just like blossoms in full bloom that are destined to wilt, the youth, beauty, and love represented in the film are presented as fragile, momentary, and, ultimately, ephemeral. It underscores the transient nature of the attraction between Chow and Su, and their suppressed emotions that never reach fruition—much like blossoms that never turn into fruit.
The metaphor for fleeting youth, beauty, and love ties in closely with the recurring theme of time in the film. The repeated emphasis on clocks and the passing of time subtly remind viewers that the period of “blossoms” or youthful beauty is not permanent, and moments missed are gone forever.
The English title, on the other hand, derived from the song “I’m in the Mood for Love,” reflects the film’s exploration of the complexities and nuances of romantic and emotional desire. Both titles, while diverse in their cultural origins and immediate connotations, converge to form a rich tapestry of meanings that define and enhance the narrative of In the Mood for Love. The interplay of the two titles captures the blend of longing, unfulfilled love, the passage of time, and the inherent beauty and sadness of transient moments, which constitute the core themes of this deeply evocative film.
Important motifs in In the Mood for Love
The cheongsam, a traditional Chinese dress that Su frequently wears, serves as a striking motif in In the Mood for Love. The dress embodies an intriguing blend of modesty and sensuality, much like the restrained yet emotionally charged relationship between Su and Chow. The meticulous detailing, form-fitting nature, and vibrant colors of the cheongsam accentuate Su’s elegance, lending a visual allure to her character.
Moreover, the cheongsam, often associated with the bygone era, symbolizes societal norms and expectations, particularly those related to marital fidelity and decorum. The repeated appearance of the cheongsam underscores Su’s commitment to these societal norms, even when her spouse fails to honor them. Through this motif, the film explores the contrast between appearance and reality, societal expectations and individual desires, enhancing the emotional complexity of the narrative.
Time, as indicated by the frequent shots of clocks, is another powerful motif in In the Mood for Love. Clocks often appear in the background during critical moments, symbolizing the unceasing march of time and the inescapable reality that Su and Chow must face. The ticking of the clock also creates a sense of urgency, emphasizing the fleeting opportunities for love that the protagonists fail to seize.
On a deeper level, the clock represents the characters’ emotional stasis. Despite the progress of time, their emotional lives remain in a state of stagnation, with their feelings for each other unexpressed and unfulfilled. The clock, thus, serves as a reminder of their shared sorrow and longing, reinforcing the theme of unfulfilled love.
Food and dining
Food and dining appear as recurring motifs in In the Mood for Love, signifying companionship and unspoken affection. The shared meals between Su and Chow offer them a respite from their loneliness, becoming an intimate space for their emotional connection. However, these meals are also steeped in a sense of melancholy as they highlight the absence of their spouses and their unfulfilled desire for a deeper relationship.
The motif of food extends to the noodles that Su often purchases, symbolizing the mundane and repetitive nature of their lives. The recurring scenes of Su buying noodles also serve to underscore the pattern of missed opportunities and unexpressed emotions that characterize their relationship.
The intricate wallpaper that adorns the walls of Chow’s room is another crucial motif in the film. It encapsulates the complex and layered emotional dynamics between Su and Chow. The wallpaper’s repetitive patterns mirror their unchanging emotional state, trapped in a cycle of longing and restraint.
Simultaneously, the wallpaper also signifies the boundary that separates them. Just as the wallpaper adorns the walls of their rented rooms, their commitment to societal norms and moral integrity form the metaphorical walls that prevent them from expressing their feelings.
Rain serves as a potent motif in In the Mood for Love, often accompanying critical moments in the narrative. The rain mirrors the characters’ emotional state, providing an external manifestation of their inner turmoil and suppressed emotions. It sets the mood for their unexpressed love and unspoken words, adding a sense of melancholy to the film.
Rain signifies change and transformation. However, in the context of In the Mood for Love, rain also highlights the lack of change in Su and Chow’s relationship, reinforcing the theme of unfulfilled love. The repeated scenes of rain-soaked streets and the sound of raindrops underscore the gloom of missed opportunities and unexpressed emotions, deepening the emotional resonance of the film.
Mahjong, a traditional Chinese game that features prominently in In the Mood for Love, serves as a powerful motif encapsulating the societal atmosphere and interpersonal dynamics of the characters. The constant clattering of the mahjong tiles provides a rhythmic backdrop to the narrative, creating an auditory link to the external world that starkly contrasts with the silent, internal emotional world of Chow and Su.
The game is frequently associated with social gatherings and gossip, mirroring the characters’ fear of societal judgment and the clandestine nature of their relationship. The scenes of mahjong games highlight the societal constraints that bind them, underlining their isolation amidst the social hubbub. Simultaneously, the strategic and somewhat unpredictable nature of the game could also be seen as a metaphor for their complex relationship, which requires delicate maneuvering amidst uncertain circumstances.
Though not as overt a motif as others in the film, the underlying political situation serves as a backdrop that subtly influences the narrative. Set in the 1960s Hong Kong, the film includes occasional references to the political landscape of the time. This adds another layer of tension and uncertainty that parallels the emotional turmoil of the protagonists. The political motif, though indirect, offers a historical context that intensifies the film’s exploration of social norms, secrecy, and unfulfilled love.
Martial Arts Serials
Martial arts serials, regularly featured on Chow’s radio, act as a recurring motif in In the Mood for Love. On the surface, they offer a bit of cultural context and add to the film’s nostalgic charm. However, on a deeper level, they also serve as an intriguing parallel to Chow and Su’s story. Much like the martial arts heroes who must navigate a world of moral codes and societal obligations, Chow and Su too find themselves in a complex emotional battleground where they must adhere to societal norms and marital obligations, even at the expense of their personal happiness. The martial arts serials, with their tales of honor, duty, and hidden emotions, therefore, become an echo of their silent, internal struggles.
Questions & answers about In the Mood for Love
What does Chow whisper into the hollow at the end?
In the Mood for Love leaves the audience with an unanswered question: what does Chow whisper into the hollow? The content of Chow’s whisper remains deliberately unknown, adding to the film’s exploration of unexpressed emotions, secrets, and unfulfilled desires. As viewers, we are only privy to his act of whispering, but not the substance of his whisper. This echoes the film’s recurring motif of things left unsaid, further amplified by the silence and secrecy that marked Chow and Su’s relationship.
The deliberate ambiguity invites the audience to actively engage in interpretation, promoting an empathetic understanding of Chow’s unexpressed emotions. This lack of certainty reflects the uncertain nature of human emotions, reinforcing the film’s thematic exploration of longing, memory, and unrequited love. By maintaining the secrecy of Chow’s whisper, the film enhances its thematic resonance, leaving a lasting impression on the audience’s perception of the characters’ emotional journey.
Read more about the ending of the film here.
Was it Su or Mrs. Chow crying in the shower?
The shower scene in In the Mood for Love adds another layer of ambiguity to the film’s narrative. While it is unclear if the woman crying in the shower is Su or Mrs. Chow, this ambiguity carries significant thematic implications. It creates a sense of shared sorrow and emotional pain, subtly hinting at the emotional turmoil both women could be experiencing due to their respective circumstances. Is it Su crying about her cheating husband and her inability to be with Chow? Or is it Mrs. Chow crying over the guilt of cheating on her husband?
This scene aligns with the film’s exploration of emotional resonance, empathy, and the interconnectedness of human experiences. By leaving the identity of the woman ambiguous, it promotes an understanding of shared pain and longing beyond individual characters, thus enriching the film’s thematic depth.
Why doesn’t Su respond to Chow on the phone?
Su’s silence during the phone call with Chow can be interpreted as a manifestation of the emotional and social constraints placed on her. Throughout the film, Su grapples with her feelings for Chow, while also wrestling with expectations and her commitment to norms. Her silence during this phone call might be a reflection of this inner struggle, a moment where her desire to connect with Chow is stifled by the societal rules to which she adheres.
In this sense, her silence is emblematic of the theme of unexpressed emotions that permeates the film. It underscores the longing, restraint, and unfulfilled desires that define Su and Chow’s relationship. Understanding Su’s silence in this scene provides a deeper insight into her character and the pressures she experiences, adding further nuance to the film’s exploration of unrequited love and social constraints.
Now it’s your turn
Have more unanswered questions about In the Mood for Love? Are there themes or motifs we missed? Is there more to explain about the ending? Please post your questions and thoughts in the comments section! We’ll do our best to address every one of them. If we like what you have to say, you could become part of our movie guide!