Silhouettes, Shadows, & Smoke: Lighting in In the Mood for Love

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Sherlock Ziauddin

Wong Kar-wei’s In the Mood For Love depicts the story of a man (Chow) and a woman (Su) who, both suspecting that their spouses are involved in extramarital affairs, become close companions to each other in their loneliness. As the story progresses, however, their platonic friendship spills over and they begin to fall in love.

Their story unfolds in carefully controlled sequences that are almost dreamlike in nature as, together, they fabricate a fantasy world for themselves in which they pretend to be in love as their spouses are – and then continue, even when the façade of romantic affection becomes a reality. One of the most obvious visual cues in the mise-en-scène that indicate the portrayal of these moments is in the lighting. In all of these sequences, the lighting is more dramatic: it is low-key, sharp, and almost always artificial, as these scenes overwhelmingly take place under cover of night. This type of lighting is fundamental in setting the mood in these sequences; the subtle expression of emotion and the tension of physical bodies is highlighted, literally, by its use.

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