'Love is all a matter of timing.'
2046, Chow Mo Wan (Tony Leung Chiu Wai, "In the Mood for Love," "Hero") tells us, is 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 ("In the Mood for Love") has created a dream-like, sci-fi, period reminisce 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.
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 ("In the Mood for Love," "House of Flying Daggers"). 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, to write one of his kung-fu serials.) Wang Jing Wen (Faye Wong, "Chungking Express") 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 "2046's," if not 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 blase observer, a serial womanizer straight from the pages of one of his dime store novels. It is Ziyi Zhang who owns "2046," 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 dancer's shoes tapping out steps. Melancholy Symphonic original music by Umebayashi and Peer Raben ("Querelle") is complemented by longing standards like Nat King Cole singing "The Christmas Song."
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.
Hong Kong helmer Wong Kar Wai created a beautiful, moody and star-crossed romance about two lonely people in “In the Mood for Love (2000).” The male character, Chow Mo-wan (Tony Leung Chiu Wai), is transported to a similar (and very different) world of the future and the past in “2046.”
Scripter Wang uses his film’s title to cleverly highlight the location of the story, a room in a modest hotel in Hong Kong during the late 1960’s, the sci-fi novel that Chow is writing and the future time when the former British colony will finally revert, in total, to the rule of mainland China. As such, the story jumps between periods and the filmmaker makes a personal statement of thoughts on the fate of Hong Kong in the new millennium.
Chow Mo-wan is a science fiction writer and womanizer who was rejected by his Singapore lover, Su Lizhen (Gong Li), when he asks her to return to Hong Kong with him. He goes back, alone, and hits it off with party girl Lulu (Carina Lau) but their romance abruptly ends with her murder – in room 2046. This becomes the center of Chow’s world as he begins a torrid affair with the next occupant, an upscale prostitute, Bai Ling (Ziyi Zhang), which starts off with the pair being just good drinking buddies. This reps the best of “2046” as Zhang makes a major leap from her martial arts prowess (“House of Flying Daggers”) to a role that is subtle and effective thesping.
Tony Leung is, of course, the central character and storyteller as we follow him through his four interludes of love – with each beginning on Christmas Eve, from 1966 through 1969, respectively. Chow, inspired by the plight of the hotel owner’s eldest daughter, Wang Jin-weng (Faye Wong), and her disapproved of romance with a Japanese man, writes the title science fiction story about a world traversed by high-speed trains and beautiful femme bots as attendants. The symbolism of that future time and Chow’s “present” romances makes for some intricate (and, sometimes, confusing) storytelling.
2046” is populated by a who’s-who list of Asian actresses – Gong Li, Faye Wong, Ziyi Zhang, Maggie Cheung and Carina Lau appear to varying degrees – and is anchored by Tony Leung. The actor’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. Photography, credited to master cinematographer Christopher Doyle, Pung-Leung Kwan and Yui-Fai Lai, 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.
2046” 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. I give it a B.
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