This post includes a brief plot summary, an explanation about the ending of the film In The Mood For Love / Faa yeung nin wa (2000) and a character analysis of Su Li-zhen and Chow Mo-wan. Beware of spoilers.
Directed by Wong Kar-wai, the 2000 romantic drama stars Maggie Cheung as Su Li-zhen and Tony Leung as Chow Mo-wan.
In The Mood For Love – Plot Summary
Su Li-zhen and Chow Mo-wan just moved into the same building. Their respective apartments are right next to each other, making them next-door neighbours. Both have spouses that are often away for work. Chow is a journalist and Su works as a secretary in a shipping company.
Su and Chow’s interactions with each other are rather limited. They only see and greet each other in the hallway or at the local food stalls. As time passes by, Su and Chow become more acquainted. Eventually, they go out to have dinner together and realize that their spouses are having an affair with each other.
The more often Su and Chow saw each other, the more they wondered how their spouses’ affair begun. At some point, the two take it to another level and start re-enacting the affair.
Chow has a keen interest in martial arts stories. He eventually gets some of his own stories published. However, due to a tight publishing schedule, Chow asks Su for an extra hand. Meanwhile, the neighbours begin to notice Su and Chow’s prolonged absence. To avoid gossip and rumours, Chow rents a hotel room far away from his apartment building to continue his writing with Su.
As time goes by, Chow develops feelings for Su but they decide to keep things platonic and not follow their spouses’ footsteps. Later, Chow finds a job in Singapore and he wants Su to leave Hong Kong with him. Therefore, Chow calls Su and schedules a meeting at the hotel room, but Su arrives too late. Chow leaves Hong Kong without Su.
The next year, Su visits Chow’s apartment in Singapore. She calls Chow’s workplace from his apartment, but she doesn’t utter a word when Chow picks up the phone. When Chow returns home, he finds a lipstick stain on a cigarette butt. He realizes that Su was in his apartment.
During dinner with an old friend, Chow rambles about how ancient civilizations used to keep their secrets. Essentially, these people used to go to the top of a mountain, find a tree, carve a hole and whisper their secrets onto the hole, only to cover them later with mud.
Three years later, Su pays a visit to her former landlady. Mrs. Suen is about to emigrate to the United States. She’s indecisive about what to do with her old apartment. However, Su shows some interest in living there again. Therefore, instead of selling her apartment, Mrs. Suen decides to rent it to Su.
Later, Chow is also at the old apartment building. He’s visiting his former landlord. However, Mr. Koo is no longer living there, another man greets him instead. Chow asks who is living next door and the current tenant tells him that a lady and her son are. Then, Chow leaves the building without realizing that Su was the lady living there.
The film ends with Chow in Cambodia visiting Angkor Wat. Chow walks towards a ruined wall, whispers into it and covers the hole with some mud.
In The Mood For Love – Ending Explained
What did Chow whispered to the wall? Probably his love for Su and his personal regret of not pursuing her. Although, both Su and Chow had feelings for each other, they never consummated their love.
Su and Chow were always in a platonic relationship. Initially, they didn’t want to follow their spouses’ footsteps and start an affair. According to Su, it would be morally wrong to do so. However, as Su and Chow develop feelings for each other, they also become more empathetic towards they own spouses. Now, they believe that feelings just simply flourish, without anyone planning for it to happen.
Towards the end, Chow becomes more unapologetic about his feelings for Su. At this point, he doesn’t care much about appearances any more, at least not the way Su does. Chow already set his mind to leave his wife and now he wants Su to go with him to Singapore. However, Su was too indecisive about it. Deep inside, Chow knew that Su would never leave her husband to be with him. It’s not in Su’s nature to confront people and stand up for her feelings.
How deep was Su’s feelings for Chow? She wasn’t indifferent to him. However, she never had the guts to do something about her feelings. Actually, visiting Chow’s apartment in Singapore was already a huge step for Su. Nonetheless, she got too scared at the last minute.
It’s evident that Su regretted her decision of not leaving Hong Kong with Chow. As a matter of fact, she didn’t rent her old apartment for convenience, that was Su’s way to relive her past with Chow. The same goes for Chow. He wasn’t just paying a visit to his former landlord, Chow wanted to be in that building again. That place holds a special meaning to him, because that’s where he met Su.
Now, were Su and Chow doomed (as a couple) from the very beginning? Pretty much. They didn’t bond over normal circumstances. Su and Chow started seeing each other because their spouses were having an affair. On the surface, their relationship seems to be pure and platonic. However, there’s a dark side to both Su and Chow. They are both masochists. Why else would someone want to re-enact how their spouses cheated on them? Su cries every time Chow plays her husband, yet she insists in doing it over and over again.
There were two pivotal moments that could’ve changed Su and Chow’s fate. First, had Su replied to Chow earlier, they would be together in Singapore or somewhere else. The problem was Su’s hesitance, when she arrived at the hotel room, it was already too late. At that point, Chow already left thinking that Su rejected him. Second, had Su not changed her mind in the last minute, the two would’ve met in Chow’s apartment in Singapore. If so, their story would have a completely different ending.
Why did Chow decide to leave Hong Kong? Chow’s feelings for Su are profound. This is evident when he decides to take that job at Singapore. Chow didn’t have to, but he couldn’t stand the idea of seeing Su everyday as his next door neighbour and pretend that she’s a complete stranger. At this point, what else could he do? Chow knew that no matter how much Su was suffering in her marriage, she would never leave her husband.
The ending citation is a reflection of how Chow feels about his relationship with Su. As the years passed by, he no longer knows whether Su’s feelings for him were as deep as his, since she was never able to reciprocate his feelings with the same intensity. That’s why his memories of her have become increasingly blurry and uncertain. In a way, their love never got a chance to mature.
Su Li-zhen – Character Analysis
Su is woman that cares about appearances. Having said that, Su cares about how she looks and how others perceive her. Behind her beautiful dresses and impeccable makeup, there is a very lonely woman.
Despite of having a husband, Su is alone in her marriage. Her husband is emotionally and physically absent. Mr. Su is constantly travelling due the nature of his job. Moreover, he often meets his mistress (Chow’s wife) when he’s abroad.
Su knows that her husband’s mistress is living right next to her, yet, she doesn’t have the courage to confront her. Instead, Su chooses to have these awkward interactions with Chow’s wife, that leads to nowhere. It’s very clear that Su doesn’t know how to handle unpleasant emotions.
Although, Su is not happy about her husband’s infidelity, she never confronts him. Instead, Su chooses to suffer in silence and keep up with the appearances. Even, during her rehearsals with Chow (as her cheating husband), Su was incapable of standing up for herself.
Chow Mo-wan – Character Analysis
Chow is a man that loves his wife. He’s aware that his wife is cheating on him. Nonetheless, Chow still hopes that things will change. He wants to give their marriage another chance. However, his priorities change when he starts to hang out with Su.
Just like Su, Chow is the type of person that keeps his feelings to himself. Even his closest friends have no idea what’s really going on in his life. Although, Chow hates the idea of infidelity, through his encounters with Su, he changed his mind on this matter. When Chow developed feelings for Su, he realized that people don’t cheat on purpose. Sometimes, two people can grown fond of each other without a logical reason behind it.
After Chow realizes that his marriage reached a dead end, he decides to let go off his wife and confess his feelings to Su. As expected, Su couldn’t give him a definitive answer. Therefore, Chow decided to leave to Singapore alone.
The ending of In The Mood For Love is definitely one of the most daunting that I’ve ever seen. The film is not about unrequited love but rather two people who develop feelings for each and didn’t see it coming.
Infidelity is a huge taboo subject, but the film doesn’t analyse it from a moral point of view, deeming it wrong or right. Instead, In The Mood For Love presents two seemly decent people developing feelings for each other, while being married to other people (that are cheating on them).
Regret is another main theme in the film. In the end, there’s a huge empty void left to be filled. Su moved back to her old building because part of her missed those times. Aside from her husband cheating on her, that was also the time when she met Chow. Therefore, she can’t help to feel a certain nostalgia regarding that period of her life.
Despite of Su’s inability to show her true feelings for Chow, she misses him. The dinners, the writing sessions at the hotel and all the other moments with Chow were an escape. For a moment, Su wanted to forget her unhappy marriage.
In The Mood Of Love is a work of art like no other. The intensity between the two leads is expressed almost without any dialogue. Their body language says it all. The film is complex, but not due to unexpected twists and turns. The complexity lies in the conflict between inner desires and morality. Both Su and Chow have feelings for each other, yet, they don’t want to act on their most inner desires because then, it would make them no better than their cheating spouses.
When I said the ending was daunting, I also meant beautiful. Although, Chow admitted that he had feelings for Su, he never really expressed the depth of his love for her. In that final scene, Chow finally gets to express everything that he has hold inside all those years.
In The Mood For Love is unique because of its quiet intensity. Throughout the film, we never see Su or Chow acting out on their emotions (good and bad). However, it’s clear that they are not okay with their spouse’s infidelity. Even when they develop feelings for one another, they don’t really talk about it.
The film’s atmosphere is like no other, it’s sensual and melancholic at the same time. Without a doubt, Wong Kar-wai created a masterpiece with In The Mood For Love.