In the Mood for Love: Qipaos in Storytelling

By Rinto Fujimoto

Wong Kar Wai’s masterpiece In the Mood for Love presents us with an impressive collection of qipaos which may remind some of us of a bygone era. The movie is set in 1962, based on the lives of the Shanghai diaspora of Hong Kong who fled from the terror of revolution present in mainland China at that time. It follows the peculiar relationship developed by two neighbours, Mr Chow (Tony Leung) and Mrs Chan (Maggie Cheung) who bond over the infidelity of their respective partners. The movie is beautifully shot with each scene having its own unique charm but inevitably, our eyes are drawn towards one element: Mrs Chan’s stunning qipaos.

In this article, I am going to explore the role played by qipaos in storytelling and share with you some photos of my favourite scenes.


Mrs Chow’s Emotions and Her Qipaos

The feelings that transpire the most from the main characters are melancholy and loneliness. It is somewhat ironic that despite seeing the two characters often surrounded by neighbours and co-workers, we feel as if there is a barrier separating them from the others. This feeling of isolation is beautifully captured by a scene in which Mrs Chan orders noodles at an eatery which she regularly frequents: her elegant qipao makes her seem out of place, in contrast with the grey and dim surroundings of the street eatery.

In fact, her wardrobe of more than 20 qipaos reveals more about her than the emotions she lets out: the floral patterns emphasize her vulnerability, the colour green her jealousy, red her love for Mr Chow …


Qipaos Throughout the Course of the Movie

Besides love, the passing of time is another central theme in the movie. Despite the apparent continuity between some scenes, Mrs Chan’s qipaos are often the only indicator that two similar scenes take place at different points in time and that their relationship evolves over several months. For example, she wears a charming light blue qipao with a daffodil pattern in one restaurant scene and a more elegant, black and white qipao with elegantly designed colour gradation in the following scene.

This repetition of similar scenes suggests that Mr Chow and Mrs Chan have, on several occasions, been out together. Yet, we feel a deep sense of frustration when we observe that despite the passing of time, they are unable to fall fully in love with each other. In fact, both characters are only able to express their feelings for each other through the re-enactment of their partners’ affairs, denying that they too are in love. As Mrs Chan puts it: “We will never be like them.”


One Frame, One Painting

In addition to the plot, the beauty of each shot is perhaps what makes In the Mood for Love such an exceptional movie. Critics have often noted the frequent use of a frame within a frame by Wong Kar Wai to add depth to his shots, and it is not uncommon to see a scene that is filmed through a window or a doorway. From the viewer’s perspective, this creates the feeling that we are examining a painting, with our sight fixated on one element: the qipao worn by Maggie Leung. Here, one particular scene that comes to my mind is the moment when Mrs Chan thoughtfully stares towards the camera in her daffodil qipao, surrounded on both sides by flowery curtains.

To me, the colours and composition of the scenes are reminiscent of an impressionist painting. The aesthetics of the movie might explain why so many people watched In the Mood for Love multiple times, as there are always more details to discover with each viewing.

Did this article arouse your curiosity? If you haven’t yet watched In the Mood for Love, here is the film’s trailer to give you an overview:

Also, if you felt inspired by Maggie Leung’s elegant style, you may want to check out our store at! Here, we offer a large collection of handmade high-quality qipaos that will bring a touch of oriental elegance to your wardrobe.


About Interact China

“A Social Enterprise in E-commerce Promoting Oriental Aesthetic Worldwide”

Aileen & Norman co-founded Interact China in 2004 with specialization in fine Oriental Aesthetic products handmade by ethnic minorities & Han Chinese. Having direct partnerships with artisans, designers, craft masters and tailors, along with 13 years of solid experience in e-commerce via, we are well positioned to bridge talented artisans in the East with the rest of the world, and directly bring you finely selected products that are of good quality and aesthetic taste.

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