2046 (2004) March 25, 2009Posted by Cal in : Romance, 2000s films , trackback
Director: Wong Kar-Wai Main cast: Tony Leung Chiu-Wai; Zhang Zi-Yi; Faye Wong; Gong Li Territory: Hong Kong
Following the events of In the Mood for Love, an emotionally bankrupt Chow Ho-Wan (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai) flits from one casual relationship to another, always thinking of his lost love, Su Li-Zhen. He now writes science fiction and steamy erotica for newspapers as well as the occasional martial arts epic, and is preoccupied with the future world of 2046 where one can recover lost memories.
I think you would have gotten superb odds if you’d approached a Chinese bookmaker in the nineties and said you wanted to bet that Wong Kar-Wai would one day do a sequel to Days of Being Wild incorporating androids and sci-fi elements. So while we’re all kicking ourselves at that particular missed opportunity, let’s look at the film on it’s own merits. 2046 is without a doubt Wong Kar-Wai’s most ambitious and expensive looking Hong Kong production, and probably about as complex as he’s gotten, too. It’s easy to forget that his films are generally no longer than about 95 minutes long as he tends to pack a lot into a relatively short running time, but this one runs at about two hours’ and seems positively titanic.
In the Mood for Love’s Chow is now a heartbroken man, and personally I found him a lot more interesting this time out. He intends to take over apartment number 2046 in a local hotel (the room number he occupied in In the Mood for Love where he wrote his stories with Su Li-Zhen) but ends up moving in next door at 2047. From there, he observes the female occupants of 2046 starting with Miss Wang (Faye Wong) who is learning Japanese for her boyfriend, despite her father’s disapproval of the match. Next to occupy 2046 is Bai Ling (Zhang Zi-Yi), a party girl who falls for Chow after their casual relationship develops into something more emotional – if only from her point of view.
The plot meanders quite a bit, as you might expect, with various characters drifting in and out of the story. But by and large, 2046 is not that difficult to follow if you’re paying attention (not unlike Ashes of Time, in fact) and the inclusion of other characters gives the film more space. Leung Fung-Ying (aka Mimi/Lulu) (Carina Lau) returns from Days of Being Wild and talks to Chow about Yuddy. Ping (Siu Ping-Lam) is still around and up to no good.
But the new ladies in Chow’s life add the most colour. Zhang Zi-Yi is the most surprising here, and she shows that she really can act. But then Wong Kar-Wai always has been able to get great performances out of his cast. Black Spider (Gong Li), on the other hand, feels like one lady too many, and for some reason I never really connect with her story, despite it being really quite important to Chow’s character (I’m not going to spoil it for those who haven’t seen the film, just take my word for it). The women of 2046 are stunningly beautiful (again, apart from Gong Li, who looks uncharacteristically unglamorous) and shot amazingly. Zhang Zi-Yi in particular is jaw-droppingly gorgeous, and the scene where Faye Wong is pacing her room repeating Japanese phrases to herself is (and I know I’m going to sound Tarantino-esque by saying this) erotically charged and the one scene that has always stayed in my memory.
The visual style of the film is also quite bold. The sixties sets are not much different from those in In the Mood for Love, but the futuristic settings of the 2046 world are a great mixture of retro-futuristic kitsch and stark realism. Wong has decided, wisely, to use more than one piece of music throughout the film, a decision that made me breathe a huge sigh of relief. Even if In the Mood for Love was not a true sequel to Days of Being Wild, 2046 is undoubtedly connected to both films by theme, character and setting. The “big clock” motif that permeated the other films is gone, but replaced with a multitude of mirrors which has probably provoked great debate amongst fans.
Although I feel that 2046 is a solid film, there’s no escaping the feeling that it’s always going to play second fiddle to the film that preceded it. Which is odd, as this is easily the more challenging, adventurous and arguably the more original of the two films. It certainly delivers more the more you watch it, which is something I can’t honestly say about In the Mood for Love. Furthermore, the return of the film-noir voiceover monologues is welcome despite the device seeming just a tad clichéd now. Somehow, though, I suspect that Wong could have trimmed it a little and made the result more wieldy.