By Carter B. Horsley
Imagine a very slow paced and
very confusing film noir.
Imagine a protagonist who is
mean and selfish.
Imagine Alain Resnais's "Last
Year at Marienbad" (see The
City Review article)
in color mixed with a dash of Jean-Luc Godard's "Alphaville."
That would give you the bones
of "2046," but not the flesh, to say nothing of the
It would not describe the luscious,
saturated cinematography by Christopher Doyle, Kwan Pun-leung
and Lai Yiu-fai, or, more importantly, the bold style of Wong
Kar Wai's direction that often fractionalizes conventional close-ups
and is referential to some of his prior movies and is made without
It would also not convey the
superb intensity of the acting by Tony Leung, as Chow Mo Wan,
the protagonist, Ziyi Zhang as Bai Ling,, Gong Li as Su Li Zhen,
Maggie Cheung as Su Li Zhen, Carina Lau as Lulu/Mimi and an android,
Faye Wong as Jing Wen Wang and an android, and Takuya Kimura as
Tony Leung played the same
character in Wong Kar Wai's 2000 film, "In the Mood for Love,"
in which he fell in love with Maggie Cheung, but they did not
consummate their affair because their spouses were having an affair.
In that movie, Leung's character was sensitive and sympathetic,
but in "2046" he is an egotistic womanizer who on rare
occasions is decent.
The movie is pretty hard to
follow but the Sony Classic DVD includes lengthy documentaries
with the director and some of the actors that help greatly in
appreciating the movie. The fact that the movie is not "fully-contained"
and difficult is part of the movie's magic. It is intellectually
obstruse, but its intense emotionality is extremely compelling.
2046 is the number of a hotel
room in "In the Mood for Love" and "2046"
and in the latter it is also the name of a destination where people
go for their memories and never return. "In the Mood for
Love" was set in Hong Kong in 1963. "2046" is set
in Hong Kong in 1966 and 2046 is the year when Hong Kong's control
is returned fully to China.
In the movie, Chow Mo Wan plays
a writer and we learn that he is the only person to return from
"2046," perhaps because he is writing a science-fiction
book about it, which, perhaps is a figment of his imagination.
In his fine review of "2046,"
Roger Ebert notes that "It is always too early or too late
for love in a Wong Kar Wai film, and his characters spend their
days in yearnings and regrets." Astute, but not entirely
accurate as much of the film dwells on seduction and love-making.
Leung has been described as
the Chinese Humphrey Bogart and in this film the comparison is
apt. He is not a superhero, just a tough guy who likes women,
but not enough to make commitments to them, the type of guy that
beautiful women often fall for, for some strange reason, probably
related to notions of machismo.
The movie probably could do
with fewer woman in Leung's life. The one that occupies the most
time is with Bai Ling, played by Ziyi Zhang, the fabulous star
of "House of Flying Daggers" (see The City Review article). She is a dancehall hostess who moves into room 2046,
next door to Leung who is in room 2047. They become involved and
she falls in love with him.
In an excellent review in the
Village Voice August 2, 2005, entitled "Heartbreak Hotel,"
Michael Atkinson described "2046" as "a sweaty,
teeming, hot-to-the-touch life-swarm of a movie," adding
that "From the portentous credits and first orchestral surge,
the film knows its a post-millenial big bang, and thunderously
demands your intimate surrender even as it refuses to let you
get close....One reason Wong's film is so profounding fascinating
is that it feels as if it's still evolving."
The film's score mixes a wide
variety of music that is almost as varied as Leung's women, all
of whom, with the exception of Ziyi Zhang, are spellbinding but
rather distant. Ziyi Zhang's character, on the other hand, is
not only alluring but passionate and human. How could anyone resist
her charms? She is remarkably beguiling. (In one of the DVD's
special features, she appears with her hair down and curly and
her facial expressions range far wider than they do in the film
"2046" is sumptuous
and surprising and provocative and may not enthrall all viewers,
but it is an extremely impressive and intriguing work of a master.
We care about Leung's women even as we learn to see him as a cad.
Life can be messy and inscrutable. "2046" is very sophisticated
and while somewhat frustrating makes demands on viewers to examine
their own life and frustrations.