Hidden Glances and Restrained Longing, Part Three: 2 Scenes from "In the Mood for Love"

In the Realm of the Lenses

Today we will continue looking at the cinematography of Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love, shot by cinematographers Christopher Doyle and Mark Lee Ping-Bing. The 2000 film tells the story of two neighbors who gradually develop feelings for each other after they discover their spouses are having an affair together. This is the third of multiple articles that will take a look at some of the shots from the film and discuss how the cinematography in these shots helps serve the film’s themes. In this third part I will be going over more shots from the first third of the film. Some spoilers will be necessary to discuss the shots so I highly recommend you watch the film before reading on if you have not seen it already.

Note: The timestamps included are the approximate starting times of the shots or scenes from the Criterion Blu-ray release.

Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan visit the noodle stall separately, Part Two (00:24:33)

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This sequence is similar to the one discussed in the previous article and again features slow motion shots of Mrs. Chan and Mr. Chow visiting the noodle stall. It lasts for around one and a half minutes and is shot with similar angles and camera movements. The previous sequence began with Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan visiting the noodle stall on their own and not running into each other until the final shots. This one opens with a run-in between the two in the first shot. The opening shot starts off tracking right to follow Mrs. Chan as she walks towards the stairs leading down to the noodle stall. As Mrs. Chan and the camera reach the stairs, we see Mr. Chow walking up. He looks longingly at Mrs. Chan as he passes her. The camera then starts to move back to the left to follow Mr. Chow before he exits frame left. Similarly to a shot in the previous noodle stall sequence, the camera then holds on the lamp outside of the stairs.

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However, this time it soon begins to rain, and shortly after Mr. Chow re-enters frame left to take shelter from the rain. Reusing similar angles and camera movements continues the idea of repetition from the previous sequence. The similar framing of the lamp outside of the stairs to the noodle stall highlights the fact that this is a similar situation but with a chance twist. Mr. Chow would have normally been able to walk home but the rain causes him to stay.

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The sequence continues with individual shots of Mrs. Chan (00:25:07) and Mr. Chow (00:25:12) attempting to dry off from the rain. Even though they are shown separately, the rain has placed them both in a similar situation. Chance and coincidence have brought them together on this night’s trip to the noodle stall.

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Next we see more single shots of Mr. Chow (00:25:26) and Mrs. Chan (00:25:37) looking pensive and lost in thought. The single shots emphasize their solitude but edited together the pair of shots connects the two protagonists with each other through their mirrored composition. The pairing also anticipates the scene after this sequence when the two characters head back to their respective apartments together.

This second slow motion noodle stall sequence uses similar angles and camera movements as before to better define the differences and changes from the previous sequence. Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan start to relate to each other more and this is shown through the use of similar single shots of both characters and complementary compositions. Even the colors of the characters’ outfits are beginning to match as Mr. Chow wears a gray suit and Mrs. Chan wears a gray qipao.

Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan meet at a restaurant (00:27:49)

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In this scene that lasts around three minutes, Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan meet at a restaurant to talk at Mr. Chow’s request. He wishes to ask about Mrs. Chan’s handbag under the pretense of wanting to purchase one for his wife. We first see the two characters in a wide shot with an obstructed view (00:27:57). Mrs. Chan faces away from the camera and we can only see the back of her head. Mr. Chow faces the camera’s direction but his mouth is blocked by the booth. The camera distance and framing start the scene off with a feeling of secrecy. The protagonists are hidden from full view and take up only a small portion of the frame. We can only see part of their heads and Mrs. Chan’s handbag on the seat. Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan’s conversation begins with them concealing their true thoughts and intentions, and this frame helps match that feeling of covering up.

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The scene then moves on to back and forth questioning and answering between Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan. The characters and their conversation are shown in separate, complementary close-up profiles. By not having the characters share the same frame, the guarded, hidden feeling from the shot discussed above is maintained. Using separate singles conveys the sense of social distance between the two characters even though they are seated at the same table. This matches Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan’s conversation which involves indirect hints and suggestions.

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However, at 00:29:21, the conversation takes a turn when Mrs. Chan announces that she has a question of her own. The shot here still consists of close-up singles, but instead of cutting from the single of Mrs. Chan, the camera whip pans to Mr. Chow and his surprised reaction before whipping back to Mrs. Chan. The whip pans underscore the unexpected turn that the conversation has suddenly taken. Mrs. Chan and Mr. Chow still do not share the same frame but the use of the whip pan allows them to share the same shot.

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The scene continues and Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan slowly begin to reveal what they have been suspecting and realize that they have both come to the same conclusion. They now share a deeper connection, and the slow motion long take following this restaurant scene finally has the two protagonists sharing the same frame together without obstructions (00:30:46).

Screencaps from In the Mood for Love Criterion Blu-ray

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