‘In the Mood for Love’: The Film that Inspired ‘Moonlight’

Rating: 4/4

The Oscars may be finished (a tear slowly drops), but I’m not done talking about Moonlight. In many recent interviews, Barry Jenkins has outlined how his film making has been inspired by Wong Kar-wai.

In the Mood for Love (2000) is a  circular, vibrantly-colored, and sordid film. It details two spouses, Chow Mo-wan (Tony Leung) and Su Li-zhen or Mrs. Chan (Maggie Cheung), whose respective partners have cheated on them with each other.

Much of the film moves in a circular pattern, as Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan attempt to reenact how their spouses got together. Many times these reenactments are without warning, and from each person’s perspective. In one scene Mr. Chow will act as the seductor, and in the next, the two will repeat their actions, except with Mrs. Chan as the seductresses. Kar-wai gives the audience very little clues to know when they’re in a reenactment, and often even the most observant viewers are not aware until halfway through the scene. This effect is meant to mimic the circular pattern of the mind. The mind does not think in a linear sense, often it’s more jumbled than the wires to your headphones, constantly redoubling on itself. In these redoublings, spouses of Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan are shown, but their faces are left obscure. This gives the film a dream-like quality, vivid in it’s representation, yet incomplete.

Kar-wai has an amazing eye for the mis-en-scene. He mixes primary colors, such as red, green, and yellow to intimate the mood of scenes. Red is often used to show the burgeoning love between Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan, as Mrs. Chan dresses in seductive red dresses, or as Mr. Chow’s hotel room is adorned with so many red drapes, you would think he’s taken up residence in a brothel. Kar-wai is also a master of framing. Framing is the technique of using natural frames within a scene, such as a door, hallway, window etc. to add emphasis to the actions of the actor. Every filmmaker employs framing, but none more so than Kar-wai. In the first five minutes of the film, there are no non-framed scenes. This effect orients the viewer toward what Kar-wai wants the focus to be, in abundantly adorned scenes of colors, props, and characters.

The sordidness of the film comes from the opposing need for purity. Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan initially embark on their reenactments as a “fact-finding mission.” A need to discover how their spouses began cheating on them. They do not want to be together because they would be as morally guilty as their cheating spouses. Nevertheless, as the film progresses they do fall in love with each. They fall for each other, knowing that they will never be together. Mrs. Chan is never going to leave her husband, and the two spurned lovers will always be the victims of poor timing, such as Mrs. Chan visiting Mr. Chow in Singapore. With each visit, she just misses him, as he just misses her.

There are many arrangements, in terms of scene, that Barry Jenkins ripped directly from In the Mood for Love. Yet, when watching Moonlight a viewer can see how the unrequited love aspect spoke to Jenkins. Both Moonlight and In the Mood for Love depend deeply on the need to be understood. They are also heavily reliant on the use of stringed instruments and slow-motion action to paint action in operatic fashion.

Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love is a perfect film. Each shot is cultivated to express emotions that have been buried by both characters, and must be mined. The mix of focused framing, tastefully selected colors, confused reenactments, and oppressively shrieking strings combined with slow-motion scenes create the human mind in a dream state, where the picture is clear, yet often slightly obscure…

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Credit featured to image to Coconuts Hong Kong.

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