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Directed by Wong Kar Wai, with Ziyi Zhang, Tony Leung, Gong Li, Takuya Kimura, Faye Wong, Carina Lau, color, 2005

Ziyi Zhang

Ziyi Zhang in "2046"

Sumptuous, Surprising and at times Inscrutable

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 soul.

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 a script.

Ziyi Zhang and Tony Leung

Ziyi Zhang and Tony Leung

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 Tak.

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 women 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 dance-hall 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 itself.)

"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.

This film ranks 90th in Carter B. Horsley's Top 500 Sound Films

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