In this movie, 2046, Chow Mo Wan tells us about a place that no one has ever left but himself.
It is a place where memories stand still, where lost lovers find each other.
As he seeks the lover that he lost in In the Mood for Love, Chow moves through a series of women as he stays at the Oriental Hotel watching room number“2046.” Writer director Wong Kar Wai has created a dream-like, sci-fi, period piece that is a most unusual semi-sequel to his lush love story, In the Mood for Love.
While that film was linear, 2046 is a mosaic, a procession of women intermixed with the fictional titular sci-fi story the lead character is writing.
And while admired by many, Wong arrived at Cannes late, showing a version that was clearly unfinished and as a consequence, his latest release was not very warmly received.
Now, more than a year later, the special effects are all in place, and additional editing shoring up the films flagging spots, making for an unqualified triumph.
The film begins with an image that looks like an amber representation of the whorls of a seashell, but is, in fact, a tie back to Mood’s ending, where a secret is whispered into a hole in a tree. Expanding on those concentric circles is the futuristic tube which shuttles passengers from year to year as they are tended to by female androids.
As his antagonist heads towards 2046, Chow Mo Wan makes several stops in the 1960s. Su Li Zhen (Gong Li, The Emperor and the Assassin), the Black Spider, is a mysterious gambler with an Ace up her sleeve (“if you win, I’ll join you”) whose motif is a sad Polonaise composed by Shigeru Umebayashi.
Chow leaves Singapore without her, heading for Hong Kong and the Oriental Hotel, where Lulu (Carina Lau, Flowers of Shanghai, Infernal Affairs III), a cabaret singer, is a former lover who does not remember him.
When she’s stabbed by her current boyfriend in room 2046, Chow tells us all her affairs had ended badly. (2046 is also the date of Hong Kong’s final integration into China as well as the room number where Chow met Mrs. Chan, (Mood’s Maggie Cheung).
Wang Jing Wen (Faye Wong) is the innkeeper’s daughter who reads martial arts novels and later takes Chow’s dictation of same.
But it is Bai Ling (Ziyi Zhang, House of Flying Daggers) who occupies most of Chow’s time, a gorgeous young girl who resents Chow’s experienced eye tagging her as a pro, who teases him with a ‘cut rate’ but cannot hang onto him. All here is parting and regret – ‘memories are made of tears.’
Tony Leung, so drop dead romantic in In the Mood for Love, here is more the blasé observer, a serial womanizer straight from the pages of one of his dime store novels. It is Ziyi Zhang who owns this film, pulling us in as her coquetry turns into unrequited need. She’s phenomenal in a film that’s a ‘Who’s Who’ of Chinese actresses.
Wang, employing three cinematographers (Christopher Doyle, In the Mood for Love, Hero; Pung-Leung Kwan and Yiu-Fai Lai, Infernal Affairs), continues Mood’s eavesdropping visual style, masking out half or better of his frame with furniture and curtains, using close-ups of red-polished toenails on sensually stretched feet or feet shod in a dancer’s shoes tapping out steps.
Sexy androids run down, moving slower as they learn about love. Hours pass in tenfolds as another Christmas comes and Bai Ling waits. Time is fractured.
Wong Kar Wai’s elegiac tone poem is difficult to take in on one viewing, but it’s mood is tough to shake.
What Wong Kar Wai has created is a beautiful, moody and star-crossed romance about two lonely people, transported to a similar (and very different) world of the future and the past. The story jumps between periods and the filmmaker makes a personal statement of thoughts on the fate of Hong Kong in the new millennium.
Tony Leung's handsome features and pencil-thin moustache give him the look of a 1930’s matinee idol and Wong uses him to good effect.
The brightest star of the ladies is, easily, Ziyi Zhang and the young actress proves that she has it all. (Although I’m still all a-wonder as to why Zhang and Gong Li are cast to play Japanese geishas in the upcoming Rob Marshall adaptation of Memoirs of a Geisha. Aren’t there any Japanese actresses that are capable of the roles?)
2046 is an intricately woven tapestry that leaves loose ends dangling as Wong Kar Wai follows his own unique vision. His production team, especially for the 1960’s interludes, does an impressive job of creating a past time with both costume and set design.
The photography is varied and lacks the consistent beauty that Doyle gave to In the Mood for Love. The futuristic interludes seem manufactured when compared to the rest of the film.
But in spite of that, this film is a must for fans of Wong Kar Wai with its subtle intrigues and interesting character studies.
It is also the author’s treatise on what he considers the future of Hong Kong and compares it to that former colony’s past times. This may not be the kind of film that will entertain the masses but it is the work of a master filmmaker.