Constipated Visuality and Its Fecal Remainders: The Anal Poetics of Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love

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Though restraint is a theme frequently discussed in scholarly works on Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love, the underlying Chinese reticent poetic tradition has nonetheless gone mostly unnoticed. This article seeks to understand the tradition and its potentiality in terms of a particular mode of visuality that I designate as anality, viewing the very act of holding or withholding treasured things, ideas, or affects as a function of anal retention that sometimes complies with while at other times contradicts collective Chinese norms. The ambivalence of such anal visuality is perceivable in the movie’s defamiliarization of time and space, which subjects characters to the gaze of an inquisitive community while simultaneously insulating and transposing them into an elsewhere free from the pressure of surveillance. The anality as well as the potentiality thereof, I argue, consists in the very spatialization of the attempt to conserve, be it an unsaid/unrepresented event or time arrested in the form of slow motion. I conclude this article by aligning this anal logic of conservation with an impersonal, Buddhist-inflected notion of melancholia via a close examination of the film’s last few shots of Angkor Wat.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)147-168
Number of pages22
Issue number47
StatePublished - Jun 2022


  • anality
  • In the Mood for Love
  • reticent poetics
  • slow motion
  • the long take
  • Wong Kar-wai


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