A wonderful video essay where one feels one is learning something more about the form of the film through feeling and thinking, and the video essay demonstrates the condensation of effects that achieve this. …and without voiceover. The Creator’s Statement is essential to the understanding and appreciation of the video essay and I include it below:
Through In the Mood For Love: A Visual Poem I express my admiration for Wong Kar-Wai’s ability to let visuals speak poetically. I resort to film theory and literary criticism to explore how images on screen may be employed as objective correlatives and subsequently traced back to semantic fields, which in return convey physical and emotional sensations to the spectating subject through what Barbara Klinger has named the arresting image. Although Klinger’s original formulation contemplates the presence of just one arresting image in a film, I conjugate her theory in a slightly different fashion, dissecting the film’s mise-en-scène according to a range of emotions, interlinked yet discernible. Simultaneously, I engage with theories of haptic visuality as formulated by Vivian Sobchack, exploring how the cinematic image may stimulate the viewer’s sensorial receptivity in order to achieve emotional impact, framing the film experience as “a system of communication based on bodily perception as a vehicle of conscious expression”. Through my essay I investigate whether film may be considered a poetic medium: I understand the use of certain elements of mise-en-scène as a visual extension of literary devices, ultimately enhancing the medium’s expressive capacities.
In the Mood for Love is an invitation to feeling – material and emotional. Wong Kar-Wai subtly creates tensions which carry throughout the film, allowing the viewer to physically perceive, albeit virtually, the textures, prints and patterns on screen; to experience the tender feelings of loneliness, yearning and heartbreak which permeate the text. Thus, I divide the essay in three chapters corresponding to these emotions, which together encompass what the viewing experience of In the Mood for Love is to me. I consider each section to be a semantic field comprising of a number of objective correlatives and provide a range of arresting images which epitomise the moment of highest emotional intensity.
The objective correlative is a literary device coined by T.S. Eliot and defined as the only truly artistic way of expressing emotion: “a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately evoked.” Eliot envisions the objective correlative as a powerful tool whose presence in the text inevitably arouses an emotional reaction. The correlatives themselves contain a universally understandable meaning, affordable to any reader; they do not require explanation on behalf of the author, for they are objectively expressive. Objective correlatives tend to respond to semantic fields: a collection of words and images employed to subtly establish a specific idea, atmosphere, emotion. References to such literary devices advance my claim of In the Mood for Love as a visual poem, in that the film presents what I name visual objective correlatives: camera movements, framing devices, details such as food, clothing and cigarettes, which work together to convey loneliness, yearning and heartbreak. These semantic fields culminate in arresting images, namely what Klinger refers to as ‘memorable cinematic fragments’, a ‘site of lingering affective power and uncertain meaning’. The arresting image holds significant evocative force, for it slows down the narrative. The film’s forward motion is momentarily suspended, allowing for the contemplation of an ‘exquisitely composed, significantly evocative and/or uncanny image’ .
Objective correlatives, semantic fields and arresting images all emphasise the strongly affective dimension of art, its capacity to agitate the reader’s sensorial and emotional receptivity. Klinger attributes the allure of the arresting image to the way it exploits the emotions that have been mounting in the spectator throughout the film. In the Mood for Love progressively creates meaning by leveraging the sensorial nature of the cinematic medium, building patterns of motifs which trigger emotions. The video essay references haptic theory as conceptualised by Vivian Sobchak: “we do not experience any movie only through our eyes. We see and comprehend and feel films with our entire bodily being, informed by the full history and carnal knowledge of our acculturated sensorium.” Film, although inherently immaterial, is a medium which manages to establish sensorial engagement and emotional involvement. This form of participation entails identification, prompting the recollection of past events and past selves, necessarily affecting the viewing experience. For such reason, I focus much of my research on tangible, perceivable objects which speak to the viewer universally, encouraging to reminisce of certain smells, flavours, sensations on the tip of the finger.
Therefore, I associate semantic fields as follows. Loneliness, the primary feeling experienced by the two characters during the film, conveyed through visual techniques such as the horizontal pan, the mirrored image and the frame within frame. I manipulate, superimpose, contrast the footage to show how the text speaks of solitude by creating movement in cramped spaces, obstructing vision and centring the frame around reflected figures rather than actual characters. I provide this image as the epitome of loneliness, where all visual devices are suspended to create a puzzling moment of contemplation.
Yearning, the impulse to pursue passion and the painful refusal to do so, symbolised by food, hands and the qipao. First, I find one arresting image for the act of eating as alternative expression of sexual desire; secondly, a different image, containing both the objective correlatives of the hand and the qipao, expressive of the acknowledgement of the impossibility of fulfilled love.
And finally heartbreak, the end of love and the bittersweet closing line of the film. I find one arresting image for the objective correlatives of cigarettes and one for the pink slippers, as two moments with an unusual temporal status, almost appearing outside of time, in a fantasy dream-like dimension.
By selecting these images, I find frames in the film which seem to stand outside the narrative flow, marked by a profoundly affective, puzzling and arresting quality. Physical and emotional feelings travel from the screen to the viewer by means of expressive images which function as visual metaphors and infuse the film with its distinct poetic aura. I let the images speak for themselves, allowing an uninterrupted flow on screen, temporarily arrested only to encourage the viewer to experience a brief, yet profound, sense of loneliness, yearning, heartbreak.
 V. Sobchack, The address of the eye: A phenomenology of film experience (Princeton University Press, USA, 1992), pp. 9;
 T.S. Eliot, Hamlet and His Problems 95-103, The Sacred Wood: essays on poetry and criticism (Methuen Publishing, UK, 1960);
 Olsen, F., Eliot’s Objective Correlative: Tradition or Individual Talent? (Sussex Academic Press, UK, 2012);
 H. Rapaport, The Literary Theory Toolkit: a Compendium of Concepts and Methods (Wiley Backwell, USA, 2011)
B. Klinger, The art film, affect and the female viewer: The Piano revisited, 19-41 (Screen, 47:1, 2006, Oxford University Press, UK), pp 26;
 B. Klinger, ibid., pp 26;
 B. Klinger, ibid., pp 24;
 V. Sobchack, Carnal Thoughts: Embodiment and Moving Image Culture (University of California Press, UK, 2004), pp 63;
 B. Klinger, op. cit, pp. 21;
 B Klinger, op. cit, pp 25;
- In the Mood For Love (Wong Kar-Wai, Block 2 Pictures, Jet Tone Production, Orly Films, Paradis Films, China, 2000)
- Ciment, Michel, Niogret, Hubert, Interview with Wong Kar-Wai: In the Mood for Love / 2000, Positif 477 in (ed.) Kar-wai Wong, Silver Wai-ming Lee, Micky Lee, Wong Kar-Wai: Interviews (University Press of Mississippi, USA, 2017);
- Eliot, Thomas Stearns, The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism (Methuen Publishing, UK, 1960);
- Kar-wai Wong, Silver Wai-ming Lee, Micky Lee (ed.) , Wong Kar-Wai: Interviews (University Press of Mississippi, USA, 2017);
- Klinger, Barbara, The art film, affect and the female viewer: The Piano revisited 19-41 (Screen, 47:1, 2006, Oxford University Press, UK);
- Olsen, Flemming, Eliot’s Objective Correlative: Tradition or Individual Talent? (Sussex Academic Press, UK, 2012);
- Rapaport, Herman, The Literary Theory Toolkit: a Compendium of Concepts and Methods (Wiley Backwell, USA, 2011);
- Sobchack, Vivian, The address of the eye: A phenomenology of film experience (Princeton University Press, USA, 1992);
- Sobchack, Vivian, Carnal Thoughts: Embodiment and Moving Image Culture (University of California Press, UK, 2004).