Wong Kar-Wai'S Aesthetics of Reticence: Anal Blockage in In the Mood for Love, 2046, and the Grandmaster

Project Details


Most critics in the West, when tackling the notion of melancholia, often resort to Freud’s “Mourning and Melancholia,” in which he defines the term as an oral mode of identification derived from the baby’s incorporation of its parents, which in turn leads to the constitution of its subjectivity as such. This kind of theoretical formulation, however, already presupposes an individualist subject, one that cannot be mapped onto a shame culture like Chinese society which characteristically stresses conformity to formal etiquettes. Instead of seeing shame and melancholia as distinct affects as those academics do, I argue that there are close associations between them. If we are to conceptualize the entanglements of these two affects as witnessed in Chinese literary and cultural texts, we need to address imageries of one’s shadows and their penumbrae often seen in the Chinese poetics of reticence which had once been subjected to severe criticism by Jen-peng Liu and Naifei Ding. I intend to re-read their understanding of the poetics of reticence in psychoanalytic terms, using “anality” instead of “orality” as my analytic crux to theorize the figure of one’s back, which bears a metonymic relation to the anus. I shall employ as my exemplary texts three major feature films by Wong Kar-wai from the past fifteen years or so -- In the Mood for Love, 2046, and the Grandmaster -- and set out to tease out the aesthetic and affective implications of these works. Since the above three films are distinctively different from one another in their figuration of the beauty of reticence, I aim to focus on the frequent appearance of characters’ back view in In the Mood for Love, the overlapping shadows of and mirroring relations between characters in 2046, and the meta-discourse on shame culture in The Grandmaster respectively as I begin to interrogate how anal blockage helps constitute an aesthetics of reticence that savors of melancholy and shame and how its underlying Chinese communitarianism paradoxically yet adeptly creates an aesthetic and ethical possibility characterized by its deviation from that communitarianism.
Effective start/end date1/08/1831/07/20

UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This project contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 12 - Responsible Consumption and Production
  • SDG 17 - Partnerships for the Goals


  • shame
  • melancholia
  • anality
  • the back view
  • aesthetics of reticence
  • Wong Kar-wai
  • In the Mood for Love
  • 2046
  • The Grandmaster


Explore the research topics touched on by this project. These labels are generated based on the underlying awards/grants. Together they form a unique fingerprint.