©  2005-2010 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.
2046


 One of my favorite authors is Paul Watkins, and what I particularly
enjoy about his work is that characters from one novel often have a
surprising connection to those of another of his work. One can read each
piece of fiction separately, but the awareness of the links between them
adds a layer of enjoyment. The films of Wong Kar-Wai contain some of
those same qualities.
2046, his long-awaited new film, is actually a
companion piece to the masterpiece
IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE (2000),
which itself owed a debt to his earlier
DAYS OF BEING WILD (1991).
Like Preston Sturges, Wong has an unofficial stock company of actors,
some of whom appear as incarnations from earlier films, while others
portray different characters. Seen separately or together, the films are
each superb, and they clearly prove that Wong is one of the most
ambitious and fascinating filmmakers working in contemporary cinema.

 The opening scene may make one think of a science fiction epic.
As a narrator explains, there’s a train that can take a person to the future –
to 2046 where one may relive memories, but from which no one (save the
narrator) has ever returned. It soon becomes clear that this sequence is a
dramatization of a story being written by Chow Mo-Wan (Tony Leung), the
film’s anti-hero. Viewers of Wong’s films will recall the character, first
introduced in a wordless scene at the end of
DAYS OF BEING WILD, where
it was implied he had landed in Singapore to gamble. By the time of
IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE, Chow was married and working as a
newspaperman, but harbored a desire to write novels. Here in
2046, he is
an author and inveterate ladies’ man.

 Chow is also a man filled with secrets, which gnaw at him and fill him
with regret and a sense of longing. At the end of
IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE,
he is seen whispering something into a hole carved in a tree at Angkor Wat,
and in 2046, we hear of this as a folk tale, not once, but thrice.
2046,
while including the dramatized elements from Chow’s story, mostly focuses
on the man and his relationships with three women. First is Mimi, also known
as Lulu (Carina Lau reprising her role from
DAYS OF BEING WILD). There’s
an implication that Chow and Mimi knew one another briefly in Singapore,
and she is briefly the inhabitant of Room 2046. Chow had hoped to rent that
room for sentiment’s sake, but it becomes unavailable and he must make do
with 2047. Later, the room is occupied by Bai Ling (Zhang Ziyi), a prostitute
who eventually embarks on an affair with Chow. In the interim, Chow
becomes fascinated with Wang Jing-Wen (Faye Wong), the eldest daughter
of the hotel’s owner. She’s in love with a Japanese man of whom her father
disapproves. She and Chow collaborate on a science fiction story called
2047.” And then there is the mysterious Su Li-Zhen (Gong Li), a
mysterious professional gambler who happens to have the same name as
Chow’s great love, the character played by Maggie Cheung in both
DAYS OF BEING WILD and IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE. (Cheung is seen
all too briefly in
2046, barely meriting her name in the credits.)

 The film is a rich and complex tale of love, regret, and remorse.
Bai Ling actually falls for Chow but he is unable to return her feelings.
Zhang Ziyi delivers her best work to date in this role. Moving away from
the martial arts films that established her, she proves to be a tremendous
talent, exhibiting a range heretofore unseen. Chow, for his part, is more
infatuated with Jing-Wen, but she is not as interested in him. Faye Wong
delivers a lovely performance that serves as counterpoint to Zhang’s.

 The film, though, is centered on Leung and he delivers a multi-layered
performance. Although the Chow of
2046 is less likeable than the one from
IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE, Leung manages to make the audience (at least
this member) remain invested in his story. It is superior work and ranks
among the best this actor has achieved.

 As with all of Wong Kar-Wai’s films,
2046 looks gorgeous thanks to
the superlative production and costume design of William Chang Suk Ping
(who also edited the film) and the work of a troika of cinematographers
including frequent collaborator Christopher Doyle, Kwan Pung-Leung, and
Lai Yui-Fai. The soundtrack also includes many Latin-flavored tunes as well
as versions of “The Christmas Song,” since several key scenes are set on
Christmas Eve.

 Just as the film has many layers, the title of
2046 also signifies
several things. It was the number of the hotel room in which Chow and
Cheung's Su Li-Zhen collaborated on their martial arts novel (and in deleted
scenes included on the
Criterion Collection DVD, consummated their affair).
It is the year that Chow sets his science fiction tale, and it is also the final
year of a fifty-year period that the Chinese government promised to allow
self-regulation for Hong Kong.

 At one point in the film, Chow says “Love is a matter of timing.”
Indeed, in
2046, timing in love is all. While I might rank the film just below
some of the other work by Wong Kar-Wai, it still remains a highlight.


            
Rating:                          A-
            
MPAA rating:                 R for sexual content
            
Running time:                129 mins.



                    Viewed at the Broadway Screening Room