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and in a mystery to be

(when time from time shall set us free) forgetting me, remember me

- E. E. Cummings

Barely eighteen, in my dorm room in college on a late evening, I am anticipating what we would talk about the next day in the film class that feels too grown up for me. I don’t entirely understand what I think about the film right now, but I find myself singing the wonderfully circular Yumeji’s theme for the next few weeks.

A year or so later, I am suddenly hit by a wave of loneliness after an afternoon nap, and I decide to indulge it – stealing a few moments between classes to sit with the mournful, rainy, sequences playing on my laptop.

Another year later, I find myself doing my first real job sitting in my childhood bedroom during the strange turn of events of the Covid-19 pandemic, and I settle down one night to watch the film with a warm bowl of noodles, trying to forget the all-consuming uncertainty around me.

And in a new city, almost a year later and almost at the crack of dawn, I watch it projected on a bedsheet, with strangers I am learning to be friends with, surprised at the sudden freedom we have made for ourselves.

And again, months later, I am full of warmth on an endless December night – letting the film stretch over a few days and not minding it all that much.

In the Mood for Love (2000); Block 2 Pictures, Jet Tone Productions, Orly Pictures

Maggie Cheung’s character in In the Mood for Love, Mrs. Chan, walks to the noodle shop near her house every other evening, often to the puzzlement of her landlady and neighbours, in the heat and in the rain, all alone, twisting herself carefully to not brush shoulders with Mr. Chow as they sometimes pass each other on the stairs. This ritual of her buying her noodles, him visiting the shop to eat dumplings, and the briefness of the two of their lives intersecting on the way becomes a richly elongated moment, while entire years of their lives are compressed or don’t feature at all in the fragments we are shown in the film. Of course, the speeding up or slowing down of it is something to be expected from any cinematic portrayal of time, but Wong Kar-Wai is a masterful constructor of moments, and I think this is because he understands something about the way we feel time.

My first time watching In the Mood for Love is a moment, one that I both know and not know will happen again. It is a moment in the way that Mrs. Chan and Mr. Chow passing each other on the stairs for a few seconds is a moment, just as them working on the comic book together is also a moment, constructed so delicately between two mirrors and a table. Duration does not matter much here, I think. Instead, it is the experience of bracketing time – setting it apart, knowing that it feels like something. I am referring to my repeated watching of this film for a point of reference, but of course, like Mrs. Chan, all of us have our own rituals of going to the noodle shop. And though we may see them sometimes as just routine or habit or chance, I don’t think this repetition is just about the mundanity of life.

Translated from Chinese, the film ends with the following intertitle —

He remembers those vanished years. As though looking through a dusty windowpane, the past is something he could see, but not touch. And everything he sees is blurred and indistinct,” and then, in some translations, “If he can burst through that piece of dust-laden glass, he will walk back into those long-vanished years.”

In the Mood for Love (2000); Block 2 Pictures, Jet Tone Productions, Orly Pictures

The characters’ preoccupation with time is something that is underlined by the constant glimpses of clocks that feature in the film, as do deadlines and dates. In the Mood for Love, like many of Wong Kar-Wai’s films, has an underlying thread of a strong anxiety about time and what time can do to solitude and longing, and love and loss. So much of these emotions that define our lives have to do with a fear for a future that is fast approaching or not coming soon enough, a present that is already slipping by, or a past that we cannot return to. And the intertitle is true for us as the viewer, as it is for Mr Chow – the fragments we have seen between the characters do feel like ‘vanished years’, something behind a glass, almost already a memory as we are seeing the events unfold.

The heart-breaking Yumeji’s theme that captures the essence of the film for so many of us is of average duration, but a one-hour long loop of the song has 15 million views on YouTube. Even within a few minutes, the song seems to go around itself again and again in wonderful, almost painful, repetition, and when the song plays during the noodle shop sequence, the camera too seems to move in an arc, circling around the two characters delicately placed in each other’s vicinity. This feeling of circularity created by Wong Kar-Wai pushes against the anxiety of the constant progression of things, the constant passing of time, the ‘vanishing’ of years. This cinematic construction of the scene is to me what a moment feels like, what we are trying to grasp at with willing or unwilling, coincidental or otherwise, repetitions that we find ourselves in. It feels like a slight hint of a thread connecting a future self I will experience and a past self I will remember. Mrs Chan lives through her days, going to work and coming back, walking through the constricted corridors of her building, followed by a shadow of the constantly increasing distance between herself and her husband – all things that will not happen to her more than once, no matter how mundane they may be. Like most of the filmmaker’s characters, there is a deadline hanging over her and the more time that passes by, the stronger the eventuality of her having to acknowledge her husband’s affair.

In the Mood for Love (2000); Block 2 Pictures, Jet Tone Productions, Orly Pictures

Perhaps, when Mrs Chan goes to the noodle shop for the first time in the midst of all this, it is one of those moments that she both knows and does not know will happen again. In the linear progression of things that occur so fast and often mean so little, there is an infinite number of selves we are losing, and this cinematic moment gives me the vocabulary to wonder if some of our selves are trying to give meaning to small brackets of time, just as an attempt at holding on to ourselves. If there is something Wong Kar-Wai knows how to get

at, it is the intricate internal logic we hold behind so many of our actions, logic that cannot be explained or put into words – the logic of Mrs Chan breaking into Chow’s hotel room, smoking his cigarette just to see what it would be like, not saying a word to him, and leaving with just his slippers from all those years ago; the logic of sesame syrup, the logic of going out for noodles when there is always food at home. The logic that makes us feel moments – knowing that this is a past self that one will try to remember when they need to, a memory they will grasp at. Sometimes a self in longing, sometimes a self in solitude, trying to be remembered and trying to remember, in sweet circles of our secret, nonsensical, logic.

Of course, it is not as though we can tell the future, and retrospect can make anything feel meaningful. Mrs Chan does not know when she will feel like going to the noodle shop again, and the intersection of her and Chow’s path is up to chance. For all intents and purposes, moments do happen entirely by chance, hence not knowing that I would watch the film again, let alone how many times and in what circumstances. But there is something about the construction of this moment near the noodle shop, and others, in In the Mood for Love, that speaks to the intentionality of chance encounters, the tingling hope that your internal logic will be discovered and understood, a hope that means so much amidst the immense restraint and fear practised by Mrs Chan, and so often practised by all of us.

In the Mood for Love (2000); Block 2 Pictures, Jet Tone Productions, Orly Pictures

The film begins with the following words,

It is a restless moment. She has kept her head lowered... to give him a chance to come closer. But he could not, for lack of courage. She turns and walks away.”

A restless moment – the feeling of visiting the neighbourhood of someone you love, suspended in a world ruled by the possibility of somehow running into them. In the film, they do run into each other during each of these moments, just about. In Room 2046, years later in Singapore, years later again in the building where they had first met, a repetition that is a grasping at past selves through moments, at once knowing and not knowing that they will happen again. Quizas, quizas, quizas, perhaps, perhaps, perhaps – the song that plays through their restless moments, makes me feel as though this hope for chance – perhaps, perhaps, perhaps – is a hope that will be understood in the present, the way we know to remember ourselves from moments in the past.


Getting Noodles in the Rain

An enactment of the circularity of life, Wong Kar Wai's In the Mood for Love takes the writer on a journey of reading the construction of moments in film and life.

May 21, 2022

About the Author



Damayanti is a writer currently based in Delhi, where she is studying Mass Communication at Jamia Millia Islamia. In her free time, she likes to rewatch In the Mood for Love.

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