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Wong Kar-Wai’s Portrayal of Human Desire in “In the Mood For Love”

Wong Kar-Wai’s Portrayal of Human Desire in “In the Mood For Love”


In the Mood For Love

Written and Directed by Wong Kar-Wai

Hong Kong, 2000

A film centered on the human desire for affection, Wong Kar-Wai utilizes his poetic filmmaking style to construct In the Mood For Love, a movie that follows two individuals in their struggling marriages. Mrs. Chan (Maggie Cheung) and Mr. Chow (Tony Chiu Wai Leung) yearn for adoration in marriages where their spouses have found it elsewhere. The movie asks its audience to reflect on the morality of their feelings. Although they never physically connect, is their growing emotional attachment overstepping the boundaries of 1960s Chinese culture? And from our perspective, does it even matter, as their own partners have already found comfort in one another? The beauty of this movie is that it alludes more than it does showcase, for story purposes, which forces viewers to critically think about the complexity of marriage and human need.


In the Mood For Love creates a barrier between viewers and the characters spouses to increase the sense of loneliness, further justifying Mrs. Chan and Mr. Chow’s developing relationship. We only know their significant others through telephone calls, gifts, conversational topics, and in one scene, the back of Mr. Chan’s head. However, there’s no desire to gain further understanding of their spouses, they exist only to support the notion that adoration is key in sustaining a healthy marriage, a quality that both spouses lack in their current marriages. It’s offensive, and hurtful, when we like who we are, have given ourselves to someone, and come to find that who we are is not enough intellectually, physically, or emotionally. As Mrs. Chan and Mr. Chow never physically connect, they find other ways such as writing together, eating, and late night talks. These activities prove that relationships go beyond physicality, they rely on the idea that another person thinks about you, desires to hear your thoughts, values your interests, etc. The film is structured in a way that the audience sympathizes, if not supports Mrs. Chan and Mr. Chow’s relationship, we relate to them because we too desire ourselves to be of interest to another.

in-the-mood-for-loveThe conflict and inter-connected-ness of the couples’ relationships is further exemplified in one particular scene where Mr. Chan has come home for a few days from business. Wong Kar-Wai tends to film his movies with more music and object symbolism than he does with dialogue. It’s these musically poetic scenes that drive the story further, with more detail, than any conversation between the two could. As everyone sits around the card table playing an evening game, the movie’s theme song, a tango-esque tune heightens and then silences all other sound. As the slow motion is cued, arms intertwine as people reach for cards, cigarettes, and their drinks. Mrs. Chan stands up to grab something for Mr. Chan who continues sitting at the card table. At that time, Mr. Chow is making his way back to the card table. As the two graze past one another, almost locking hands, the camera focuses on Mr. Chow’s tie that appears to be representing the complexity of the couples’ affairs. As well as offering another dynamic to the slow motion tango that signifies Mrs. Chan’s and Mr. Chow’s desire to be with one another. Like the corners of the tie, the couples are never quite able to fully engage, or overlap. A mutual decision driven by both 1960s Chinese culture, and their agreement to not be like their spouses. Their paths never overlap, not in their current state of affairs, and not later in life when Mr. Chow moves away, and then returns in the hope of finding Mrs. Chan.


Luscious film - In the mood for loveIn the Mood For Love focuses on the human need for affection, and the idea that relationships are not based on physicality. Although, in the end, it indeed becomes a factor in having a satisfying, all encompassing relationship. Wong Kar-Wai, however, emphasizes that sustaining interest is built by conversation and intellectuality, it’s how the character grow to love one another, and desire one another’s company. It appears a bit contradictory when, in the end, Mr. Chow needs Mrs. Chan in a way that she finds inappropriate as a married woman. But because Wong Kar-Wai’s movie is meant to portray the complexity of marriage, love, and human desire, its inclusion then appears more fitting. The movie asks its viewers whether or not Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan’s relationship is justified, or were their actions wrong? And the answer is no. If having a fulfilling existence means that the characters need love in their life, and their spouses lack contribution, not because of their personalities, but because they’ve found love elsewhere, then Mrs. Chan and Mr. Chow are simply attempting to find happiness.