I appreciate Jonathan Rosenbaum’s review of In the Mood for Love and his general understanding of director Wong Kar-wai’s intentions in terms of its direction. At the same time, I believe that, owing to his unfamiliarity with the culture during this period , some of the nuances so finely expressed in this movie may have eluded him. For example, the “neck brace” he describes is what is known as a Mandarin collar and is generally part of what constitutes a traditional Chinese dress. Called a qipao (formal dress) in Mandarin and a cheungsam (long dress) in Cantonese, starting from the 1930s, these “confining (though lovely) dresses” were what the women of that time and place wore when they wanted to be stylish.
As for describing this “brooding chamber piece about a love affair that never quite happens,” without giving too much away, permit me to add a few cultural hints that might help to better understand this piece:
(1) In traditional Chinese literature, the term “clouds and rain” is always a euphemism for sex. Considered more poetic, it also made it past the censors (yes, there were censors back then, too).
(2) If a woman ever puts her head on a man’s shoulder (and especially if the man lets her), that too means sex. In fact, any type of physical contact whatsoever between two people (single or otherwise) back then was seen as incredibly intimate. Of course, thanks to modern-day influences, things are different these days, but until recently any PDA outside of the bedroom was not just frowned on, it was unheard of.
So yes, seen in this light, those “tentative hand gestures” are, in effect, a really Big Deal. Which may help to explain why the movie ends the way it does–but then I promised not to give anything away, so I won’t. Thank you.