Cast: Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Gong Li, Takuya Kimura, Faye Wong, Zhang Ziyi, Carina Lau Ka-ling, Chang Chen, Dong Jiew, Maggie Cheung Man-Yuk.
“In the Year 2046 a vast rail network covers the globe. A train comes for 2046 every once in a while. No-one ever comes back. Except me.”
So (rather confusingly) starts the dark, pseudo-sci-fi sequel to Wong Kar-wai's In the Mood For Love (2000). In that poignantly dark film set in 1962, Hong Kong residents Chow Mo-wan (Tony Leung) and his neighbour Su Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung) discover their respective spouses are having an affair. Though they too fall in love, for reasons of morality they never allow themselves the physical expression of their love and the film is plangent with the longing of something deeply desired which can never be.
2046 is pseudo sci-fi because the main character Chow is, here, a few years later, a writer of science fiction, and the 2046 of the title is a symbol for an impossible future. It's a place where one's memories are forever replayed and nothing ever changes. 2046 is actually the number of a room in a seedy Hong Kong hotel. A succession of lonely, painful Christmas-times mark the passage of years spent repeating sad relationships. Through this room passes a procession of languorously beautiful ladies, with whom Chow has desultory, unfulfilling affairs, treating them callously. It's a natural, if regrettable, progression for a man whose self-imposed guilt in the previous film would not allow him to enjoy the fruits of his desire for Su Li-zhen.
In this story, Chow has perfected the art form of heartbreak, both that which he causes and that which he himself suffers. In this film, director Wong Kar-wai continues to create a rich and glamorous filmic art form of nostalgia and sophisticated lost love in what must be something of an aesthetic trap. He is in love with his pain and he depicts it so seductively and beautifully through all of his films that it must be difficult to move on. I sincerely hope he does so. It would be lovely to see what else this highly acclaimed director can do.
An interwoven storyline involves Miss Wang (Faye Wong), daughter of his landlord (Wang Sum), impossibly in love with a Japanese man whom her father rejects. Wong becomes their go-between. "Love is a matter of timing. It might be the right person, but be too soon or too late," - and for Chow, the love being offered him in succession by Lulu (Carina Lau), Bai Ling (Zhang Ziyi), Ah Ping (Siu Ping Lam) and the (other) 1969 Su Li-zhen (Gong Li), is not enough, he's only briefly and carnally "in the mood" - so lonely and hankering for the lost love of the past that he can neither give nor receive true love in the present, or the future for that matter. The ladies - one of them, significantly, an android - are gorgeous, seductive, neurotic and alone. They all seem to blend into one and that one is not the right one for Chow.
The character of Chow is like a Chinese Alfie without the lightness, humour, wit or even the limited self realisation of the English serial heartbreaker. 2046 is such a cinematically stylised film that it almost doesn't matter what the storyline is because it is really about a state of being trapped in longing. Though magnificently filmed by three cinematographers, Christopher Doyle, Yiu-fai Lai and Pung-leung Kwan, and without exception acted with depth and sensitivity, I found the film slow and repetitive. The directorial fascination for tragic romance becomes tedious and frustrating for the viewer who does not share that sentimental viewpoint.
© Avril Carruthers 22nd May 2005
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