Finding Love in All the Wrong Places: The Poetry of In the Mood for Love

Peter Barlow
December 25, 2014

Fa yeung nin wa [In the Mood for Love] (2000) is the perfect title for a film about the mood, the feeling, the perception, and readiness for love and how it never comes to fruition. It is a deep wound that the film leaves when experienced correctly and fully. It is a film of such dramatic, such intricate yet bold styles that it is difficult to fully grasp the narrative the first or even the first few times viewed. Much like how I had to see The Conformist (1970) a second time to even know why such magnificent frames were composed, In the Mood for Love provides a certain enigmatic, elliptical approach to storytelling that is not wholly impenetrable, but blurry and indistinct; just like our time worn memories of the past.

We are given little plot. Two people, a man and a woman whose lovers have supposedly found new lovers and are left to themselves only to find what they had wanted all along through aforementioned scorn. It is not the story that sets the mood: it is the style. The style is the narrative. It is the plot; the exploration, the rising and falling action, the climax. It is the character development and slowly moving poetry at the core of the film. Its style transcends simply being flashy and aesthetically pleasing—it is an integral part, if not the most important, to the entire experience.

So what is this style? On a very basic level, it is elegantly composed people, or parts of people. We are shown feet, waists, and bodies without heads. We are shown rain dripping into puddles, flickering neon lights and ascending spiraling swirls of smoke. It is all very subtle, very low key. Had you not been paying attention, the plot points would pass you by and you would only be left with those marvelous images of Maggie Cheung in her myriad of different outfits.

The view from the camera is often obscured or shown only in part. Many things block the action; our view of it. We are never shown the faces of the suspected cheating spouses. We are only witnessing parts of the truth, the objective truths of day-to-day living. What are hidden are the secrets we keep from one another, which we try to hide and cover up. These are visually manifested onto the canvas, these blockages we must accept to continue on.

Much of the film is done is slow motion. This means different things at different times. Slow motion could signify hyper perceptivity of a particular situation. It is also used for pacing and to suggest the passage of time. This is used in conjunction with its soundtrack, which almost exclusively occurs during these slowed sequences. They together create a singular mood, an expression of longing trapped within these two main characters who are themselves trapped in an unforgiving societal taboo, even when they are viewed modernly as overly loyal victims.

Fa yeung nin wais a beautiful film. It is oftentimes breathtaking in its choreography and plotting of the emotional map of longing and unrequited love which exists in a state beyond desire and beyond pain in a realm so embedded within ones psyche that is becomes engrained into the very beat of ones heart.

Watch Fa yeung nin wa [In the Mood for Love] (2000)