Reviews by 1. drakula, 2. Chris Khoo, 3. Adrian Sim, 4. Sinnerman, 5. daface 6. Kenneth Lyen 7. metalmickey
Director: Wong Kar Wai
Writing Credits: Wong Kar Wai
Starring: Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Zhang Ziyi, Gong Li, Kimura Takuya, Carina Lau, Faye Wong
Country: Hong Kong
Language: Cantonese, Japanese
Year released: 2004
Runtime: 129 min
1. Reviewed by drakula
2046: Of Memories Wet with Change
"All memories are stained with tears," sighs an inter-title near the beginning of 2046, the latest film by internationally renowned auteur Wong Kar-Wai. It is made especially significant due to the placing of this inter-title - during the transition between the futuristic sci-fi settings and the 60's, the actual time period the film is based on, setting the mood for the intense reflection of shifting time capacities and emotions that is to come.
A magnum opus spanning 5 years in production, this film acts as a continuation and summation of Wong's previous films. Alike his previous films, Wong is like a kid who is never afraid to color out of the lines in his color books, often stretching the boundaries of the film medium and populating his otherwise bleak worlds with rich colors. Except the kid playing with his crayons is now a man, and every color and detail he employs are mixed with the tears he has secretly shed over the years, tears of dull heartbreak and painful regret. And these colors are the colors that make up the drunk, pregnant world of 2046.
That 2046 took 5 years to make and comes at the point of the later career of Wong is only reasonable, since it shows us the peak of maturation of an artist that has just produced a chef d'oeuvre that rivals the rest of his film in composition of style and bests them in terms of brushstrokes of nuance emotions and its full-bodied evocative moods. In its entirety, it is can be defined as the direct sequel to Wong's 2001 mellow romance In the Mood for Love - taking shape from the whispers of Tony Leung in the hole of a wall in Angkor Wat and flourishing into an epic poem of love in itself. As it opens with the camera drawing out of an enigmatic impression of a hole accompanied with hushed whisperings during the credit sequence, it is no doubt that the secret Wong has been trying to tell throughout his entire oeuvre but not finding the right expression to, has finally come to life in the open, living and breathing in its nostalgic remembrances.
2046 comes to life in many identities: it is a hotel room that Tony Leung stays in, the number reminding him of the lost shadows of his past; it is a place where everything stays the same in a world of change, where people board a train to and never come back; it is the year when the promise China made to Hong Kong of 50 years of no change will end. The many meanings it symbolizes is probably clear as day and has probably been caught upon by too many glib reviewers, but it is with this multi-layered reflection of the inevitability of change and the remembrance of things past that permeates this film in as it boards, heavy-hearted, the train leaving the place where memories reside to face the realities of change - a deed we will all eventually have to embark upon.
It is a poignant reflection on the ever-changing world that we lived upon and the rushed relationships that do not pause to regret, and to grief. It is mourning not for the new life that is waiting to embrace us all, but the loss of the old life, the life that we knew so well. It is the painful acknowledgement of opportunities not seized, times wasted that are so now so fleeting in retrospection, the times that bloom like flowers in the short midday sun, and wilt irreversibly with the course of time. It is a poem about stopping to think, and the sadness of the people who engage their lives in thinking about this.
If Wong still cannot bear to bring himself out of the world of the 1960's - he originally intended 2046 to be a purely sci-fi film - is any indication, we see a filmmaker here who pours himself wholly into the canvas of the film, and inviting everyone who might feel the same way some time or another into joining his beautifully rendered funeral procession of life that has to pass. A faculty that his previously brash kinetic style of film (with little substance, I must add) can never achieve. We see here, a master that is finally confident enough to draw out the best performances ever seen in all the actors with a stately style that is able to match the powerful emotional story perfectly.
And yet, this barely skims the surface of this rich and complete universe that the film inhabits; the universe, which extends and envelops around the viewer and later becomes part of the viewer's memories, it lamenting itself in the transient nature of time, and how we have to face its passing. The manner in which it unfolds - we see Tony Leung with a completely changed personality from that in In the Mood for Love, gradually coming to terms with the fact that this change can only be superficial and, deep inside him, he is still drowning in his sea of lost memories; the fugue in which Tony Leung imagines himself in, with nothing changing even in the futuristic time period - allows for Wong to examine the ambivalence that lies inherent in humanity: nostalgia and pushing on. Wong makes it too easy for us to get drunk in 2046, both the film and what the number represents, because he has created an atmosphere so heavy with longing and regret and, in its finality, hope, in this eternal cycle of bliss and the loss of bliss, we are drawn like moths to the flame and lose ourselves again and again only to find ourselves back and realize that we will always lose ourselves still.
Though it hardly features Maggie Cheung, her ghost is present throughout most of the film. Especially when diving deep into Tony Leung's melancholy, she is all we see, and all we feel; she is all that is not there. But 2046 extends beyond Tony Leung, the film’s universe is also populated with many characters - from Zhang Ziyi's young dancer infatuated with Tony Leung; Faye Wong in an impossible relationship; Carina Lau who thinks only of her dead lover; to the mysterious Gong Li who finds herself unable to penetrate Tony Leung's thick fog of memories - which is the main reason why most people find this the most fragmented out of Wong's works, but this can hardly be a crime when these characters coalesce and form a mosaic of love lost. Wong's fans might find many of these characters too familiar - some of them directly from Wong’s previous films, and some of them being derived from them - but where they were merely shadows of real people in the past - one of Wong's favorite techniques is decreasing the shutter speed of the lens, creating a drug-like hazy effect that makes the actors look like shadows racing in a neon-filled cosmopolitan hell - where we have nothing but glimpses of them in the past, here Wong indulges us in a full-fledged character study that shows us their every emotion in detail. Of course it helps that he has a brilliant cast that puts up their uniformly best performances ever, making it so fascinating just looking at the player's face and being embroiled deep into their intense emotions.
Since In the Mood for Love, we have seen a Wong Kar-Wai that has finally broken free from his blank poeticisms of his previous works in the 90's to a style that marries poetic expression with the vicissitudes of life - the sign of a master finally taking shape. In 2046, Tony Leung - the author figure - is always muddled with the problems of inarticulateness; he is faced with the eternal problem of articulating love, the same problem that artists have faced from the classical times up to now. Yet, (if he is to be seen upon as the metaphor for Wong's creative progress) Wong has hardly any need for worry, because 2046 succeeds in all respects in articulating this inarticulateness of love; and in finding a style that brings across his emotions so directly, succinctly and powerfully, Wong has overcome all the inarticulateness and awkwardness in expression that plagued his earlier work. In writing about 2046, similarly, I find myself hard-pressed to articulate this inarticulateness that my love for it brings upon, but nevertheless, I shall try - in Wong Kar-Wai's spirit - and try again, until this is achieved.
2. Reviewed by Chris Khoo
Rating: **1/2 (out of four stars)
Wong Kar Wai's raison d'etre for making films is unmistakably grounded in auteurism. 2046 is a pastiche of disembodied cinema and raises the most references from his past auteurship. As we dissect the clandestine numerical meaning which turns out to be a title of the protagonist's feature novel, Wong shuffles us back and forth to Days of Being Wild whilst setting us In The Mood For Love through subtle references. The double entendre of the title in fact refers to the last year of China's no change policy for Hong Kong as gleaned from the director's interview with The Guardian, as well as the room number of the hotel where the protagonist, Chow Mo Wan (Tony Leung) met his old lover, Su Li Zhen, a.k.a slz 1960 (Maggie Cheung). Apparently and unfortunately, we also see a "no change policy" in Wong's auteurship as yet.
The story left off from where In The Mood For Love ends as we follow Chow Mo Wan's solitary foray into pseudo self gratifications, ironically to substitute the irreplaceable Su Li Zhen 1960 (Maggie Cheung). The film starts from the "abysmal hole" of gramophone, suggesting a whole load of secrets awaiting for us to uncover (or not?) and leads us into the film characters' kaleidoscopic storage of memories. Takuya Kimura's sensual introductory narration expounds the theory behind 2046, a place where time stands still and memories afloat, untainted...
In Singapore, Chow Mo Wan meets Su Li Zhen No. 2, played by Gong Li, a mysterious professional gambler with a perpetual black glove, who helps him win his traveling fare back to Hong Kong. Alas, the authoritarian gambling figure is not even a pale copy of the original Su Li Zhen, and the character's short screen time is only a fragment of Chow Mo Wan's many passing vessels in his new fleeting life. Back in Hong Kong, Chow meets Lu Lu (Carina Lau), a notable reference character from Days of Being Wild who pretends to forget Chow. One could see the director paying homage to the late Leslie Cheung by having Chow rekindling Lu Lu's memories of her old lover (played by Leslie Cheung from Days of Being Wild) and how they met each other. Drunk and heart broken once again from the memories, Chow escorts Lu Lu back to her Oriental Hotel apartment, room 2046. A few days later, her drummer boyfriend (Chang Chen) stabs her and she exits 2046. This leaves room for Chow to move in and relieve his own nostalgia with Su Li Zhen but the manager, Mr Wang, offers him the adjacent room, as he needs to refurbish the "jinxed" 2046. He reluctantly settles for 2047.
The new occupant of the newly refurbished room 2046 is a prostitute, Bai Ling (Zhang Ziyi), who has the most screen time among the actresses in the movie. An introduction with the rhythmic bed creaking, flirting phone conversations, flashing cheong sams and coquettish furs showcase Bai Ling as a confident and promiscuous beauty but she would eventually dwindle to one of Chow's spurned lovers.
Next comes in Wang Jing Wen, the hotel manager's daughter, played by Faye Wong, the epitome of elusiveness. She falls in love with a Japanese, Tak (Takuya Kimura) but the vehement objection from his father splits the lovers apart. She too relieves her memory in room 2046 and trivializes her guilt of not following Tak by regurgitating a mouthful of Japanese, mostly positive answer phrases that she should have said at the time when Tak asks her to leave. Chow later discovers Wang to be his prodigy writer because she has the flair for writing - even outdoing him in erotic novels. They began to develop the most unlikely partnership, while Chow is sick, Wang would ghost in for him to meet the deadlines. Eventually, Chow encourages Wang to seek her true love... at the same time developing interest for Wang.
Knowing that Wang's love roots in the oriental Japan, Chow gives up and in catharsis, starts to write a novel titled 2046. This is where the futuristic scenes set in. Tak, the Japanese travels to 2046, a place where time and memories stand still, a paradise to soak in and no one ever comes back but he did. On the train ride back to reality, he meets robot stewardesses such as Lu Lu and his lover, Wang Jing Wen. The line between reality and fiction blurs in the futuristic segments but it is really, only Chow's cathartically fabricated world where he would drown his frustrations, thus many imageries are open for personal interpretations.
Wong Kar Wai's signature semiotics in his strong visuals stay firm, this time with more claustrophobic mis-en-scPnes and he continues to dwell on post-modern themes as well as diurnal human contacts. Christopher Doyle's cinematography perpetually flushes our sight with sophisticated lighting, colour filters and textures while William Chang's set designs transform 60s impoverished bedrooms and corridors into a timeless world, exuding theatrical beauty.
But just what is missing?
Perhaps it is truly slz 1960. One cannot deny but acknowledge the fact that Maggie Cheung's mere seconds of screen presence is enough to burn through the entire projector screen! It is truly the right decision to strip off her screen time down to a few seconds and for an actress with such enigmatic calibre like Maggie herself - she only needs a few seconds to expound her character's importance and holy presence amidst all the promiscuity and gloomy atmosphere. Wong Kar Wai exhorts Su Li Zhen 1960 into a perfect goddess where her love for Chow Mo Wan could never be replaced, she becomes a myth, a legend and when we see her, we see hope... even for the few seconds. Perhaps only with Maggie's poise and performance, could this magic be achieved.
As the years pass by and political climates changing, Chow Mo Wan transforms into the oriental Clark Gable, perpetually giving the "frankly my dear, I don't give a damn" look, the only constant is slz 1960. Where is she now? What is she doing? How many cheong sams does she own now? It is only until this moment, do I realize the resonating power of Maggie's performance from In The Mood For Love
as for the other female characters, who cares? Wong Kar Wai owes Maggie big time for this unexpected surprise, truly I feel for Chow Mo Wan's yearning to return to 2046 where Su Li Zhen 1960 lives on. It is excruciatingly torturous to see only a few glimpses of Maggie Cheung!
Wong's latest pontification is one of change, which is a constant but memories are also a form of constant, untainted by any climate and survive any time zones as long as they are kept alive. Once the clock strikes 2047, how many Hong Kongers would travel back to 2046 to relieve their memories of "unchanged policy" days? Wong has been striking on this political theme in his past efforts notably and arguably the best, Chungking Express, others include Happy Together and In The Mood for Love. One wonders if Wong Kar Wai has once again struck a chord with Hong Kongers or have they grown tired of his political innuendos beneath the expensive footages? If so, 2046, 5 years in the making is perhaps one of the most expensive and ineffective political campaign ever made. Period.
2046 is nominated for the Palme d'Or at the 57th Cannes Film Festival 2004.
3. Review by Adrian Sim
The wait is finally over. 2046 is a continuation from the narrative strands in Days of Being Wild and In the Mood for Love. It is also the culmination of Wong Kar Wai conceited themes of unrequited love, eternal loneliness and emotional alienation.
To have a richer understanding of 2046, you should watch Days of Being Wild and In the Mood for Love as there are numerous references to those films (e.g., the flying bird, the Lulu/Mimi character, the analogy of "whispering secrets in a hole," etc.). Mr. Chow is an extension or mutation of Leslie Cheung's Yuddy in Days of Being Wild. Gong Li's role is Maggie's Su Li Zhen's reincarnation.
From a technical standpoint, 2046 is almost pitch perfect. Every shot cries out "art." 2046 is visually splendid in terms of its innovative use of framing, colors and shapes than for its rather disappointing computer generated imagery (CGI) graphics. Especially impressive are the details endowed in every shot...from the costumes to the lighting to the acting. By dividing the screen into half and choosing to depict action on one half, Wong Kar Wai has created a sense of visual unrest and claustrophobia. In so doing, the shots look visually arresting because of the more pronounced depth of field.
He has also chosen to shoot about 90% of the film in interiors (i.e., the Oriental Hotel and train) creating an insular world that the lovelorn characters live in. interestingly, the only exteriors shown are the barren alleys, the CGI-rendered futuristic Hong Kong skyline and black and white footage of civil unrest to present the contexts of his affairs.
Wong Kar Wai has also deliberately cut away a lot of "look room" (that comfortable looking space) from the characters...such that the characters often appear talking to someone offscreen. Thus, evoking the characters' dissociative psyches. Another Wong Kar Wai trademark to stir visual interest is the use of over-the-shoulder shots to cut away facial features of the person in the background. Remember the obstructive use of billowing curtains to block characters' faces in Ashes of Time? In a way, he attempts to dis-map the psychological domain of the often self-centered and deceptive characters (e.g., Tony Leung's Mr. Chow)...rendering an impossibility in totally understanding them.
Ohh...and the numerous mirror shots furthers the theme of claustrophobia and emotional entrapment. This utilizing of mirrors is quite predominant in the trilogy of films. Also interesting is the choice of a nonlinear narrative in tandem with Tony Leung's fragmented memories of his various beaus.
I've never really been a Wong Kar Wai fan. I can't say I consider 2046 a masterwork because I find it a tad too pretentious (and frankly quite sick of his selfish characters) but I am indeed very impressed by the technical work here to evoke certain themes. I hope Wong Kar Wai does something different next time. I believe he hasn't reached the pinnacle of his craft. 2046 is only a harbinger of better things to come.
4. Review by Sinnerman
2046 - After 97....
I am suspending with a description of this film's synopsis, for it is not really essential to know what 2046 is all about. It is more enriching to appreciate what it represents, to each and every viewer who connected with it, or otherwise.
I have difficulty articulating my love for films I truly love (like this one), which is the reason why I dare not write about 2046 until now. And I have a feeling I will fail miserably at my present attempt too. But what the hell, if I don't say something now in support of the film I love so deeply, there may never be another appropriate time again.
To me, Wong Kar Wai has sent out a most courageous of invitations. With a lucid vision, this cinematic train veered off its beaten tracks and strived to connect with "willing" passengers. Riding on the back of his experiences in making films and living life, Wong Kar Wai unleashed upon an unsuspecting public this meticulously conceived masterpiece. One which not only pieced together the kaleidoscopic jigsaws of his body of work, it ironically splintered from them too. For from those past colorfully "hollowed" Wong Kar Wai bubbles, 2046 produced a coagulated pool of suds worthy of the most lavishly sentimental soap operas. In my humble opinion, this stylistic decision to overload our senses as well as our hearts was intently devised to rally all kindred spirits together. To open up, dig deep into ourselves and prepare us all to bask in the collective experience of one schizophrenic "train man."
Who then is this "train man"? In my humble opinion, this "man" can be anyone or anything. He can be Tony or his Japanese alter-ego. He can be Faye, Zhang, Carina, Gong or that all elusive Su Li Zhen. This "man" can be an amalgam of the myriad characters in 2046, fictional or otherwise, in parts or in sum. He can also be infected by the experiences of Wong Kar Wai himself, or mnemonic remnants of his past films. By extension, he can be you or me. Hell, thinking about it, this "man" can be life itself.
What about the ending of 2046?
The split-second smile on Tony's face when last we saw him walking down a flight of stairs (after he rejected Zhang Ziyi's plea to stay with her for a little while longer) was indicative of his awareness of Zhang's futile attempts at resurrecting a love which has passed its time. He smiled because he has been through such turmoil of the heart and had survived it and is fairly certain Zhang would learn the things he did, and move on. Life is about moving on from one hurdle to another.
But what followed after Tony's smile was most heartbreaking; for we saw a cryptic stare into nothingness as he sat slumped at the back of a taxi cab. The film repeated the opening monologue about the train from which people take to go to the mythic 2046. To me, I think the train symbolizes the vessel from which intense and unforgettable emotions dwell, in the form of memories distilled by time and smothered by nostalgia. It is a comfortable place to stay in and hence people scurry to jump on this train. And once people got on this train, there is a likelihood they wouldn't want to alight from this vessel of comfort, ever. There is only one person who managed (or is willing) to come back from this train, and it's Tony. For as illustrated in the film (and encapsulating all the past films with Tony's character), the man has enough memories to fill many train coaches. That he chose to come back from 2046 is a brave choice. For he has wised up to the futility of wallowing in the past, however sweet it may be. The harder choice is to come back into the present. To live it and in the process, gaining more memories to be stuffed into the trains of 2046...
Its a harder choice because the train is as unforgiving as life itself. The longer one stays inside 2046, the more one realizes that life is full of hardships and forces one to be lonely till the day we depart from our mortal bodies. The closest approximation of the train to a real life vessel, is hence, the taxi cab, for many intense memories of love and hurt were stowed in the back seats of taxi cabs in Wong Kar Wai movies. Hence, in the closing frames of 2046, we see a wiser and more enlightened man,
I picked up simple truths rising from the clouds of 2046's smokey universe. Evoking a calm of looking with patient eyes, 2046 is as close as it gets to understanding the helpless spiral of this mortal coil. There is no desire to change lives, one self or this whole f***ed up world. Because with age, experience, quiet observation and revelatory introspection, a melancholic acceptance is reached. To see, to understand, to accept and most importantly, to control the despair of knowing too much. This is beauty neither in the sights we see nor the sounds we hear. This is beauty in a state of mind.
2046 is the first and only Wong Kar Wai film which I truly LOVED. I'm hence actually glad Wong Kar Wai disappointed many of his "fans". With 2046, Wong Kar Wai has shown the fortitude to venture into a whole new heedless direction. It has scant regard for critical consensus or fanatic demands to remain "Wong Kar Wai". 2046 appeals overwhelmingly to my sensibilities. In fact, this is the only film in recent memory which almost approaches the stature of Tokyo Story (for me), in its imperceptibly intuitive illustration of a Zen-associated, Yasujiro Ozu-influenced precept, "Mono no aware" - Sensitivity to things.
The most intriguing part of the ending was the way the opening monologue of the train to 2046 is repeated in the taxi cab sequence. Only this time round, there was no mention of the very last line, the one which indicated Tony came back from 2046....food for thought....
2046 is an enigma. Any attempts are dissecting it will only unravel more mysteries for our further deciphering.
Its stirs the inquisitive minds and fuels the curious hearts to collaborate and hopefully, give birth to new insights about the power of cinema and its invaluable lessons on life.
5. Review by daface
2046 is an arty farty flick, no doubt about that. And I gotta admit I'm not an arty person. What made me want to watch this film is that it features the hottest Chinese actresses in one movie: Zhang Ziyi, Gong Li, Faye Wong, Carina Lau and Maggie Cheung (sadly it was only one scene which lasted no longer than 10 seconds, without dialogue). Tony Leung is a lucky man!
It is difficult to rate arty flicks, the reason being that the themes resonate differently for each individual moviegoer. I shall try my feeble best to explain how I felt about this film.
1. The narrative
2046 is kinda like Tarantino's films. Timelines get blurred as you get zipped forward and backward, interspersed by black and white titles. It is stylistic - who would've thought smoking a fag would be shot so artistically?
Tony Leung is Chow, a character from the previous Wong Kar Wai movie In The Mood For Love. Though I haven't really seen that film, this Chow is different. Love changes a person, and here, we see a Chow who has lost love after In the Mood for Love
Simply put, we journey with him through the 60s, where he experiences different relationships with the mentioned chicks - Zhang Ziyi (a socialite), Carina Lau (reprising her role from an earlier Wong Kar Wai movie Days of Being Wild, and there is a brief mention of the late Leslie Cheung's character as well, which I felt was a tribute), Faye Wong (a hotelier's daughter), Gong Li (a Cambodian gambler), and Maggie Cheung (from In the Mood for Love), and all these while shuttling between Singapore and Hong Kong, where he stays at the Orient Hotel, right next to room 2046, which has its significance from In the Mood for Love.
The feel of the movie was like Days of Being Wild, with Days being a chronicle of Leslie Cheung's character, and 2046, Tony Leung's Chow.
2. The story within a story
This was a bit like Hollywood's Adaptation (starring Nicholas Cage), where a writer writes his fictional story, and it gets intertwined with the movie's narrative. This one features Chow's futuristic story, which is called 2047 (the room he is staying in), and is based on his life experiences and the characters he interacts with. It is perhaps this portion that many movie goers will find confusing, as philosophical messages of love gets repeated ad nauseam. This gets played out by Japanese actor Takuya Kimura and features the girls as android stewardesses serving passengers on a train leaving a place called "2046"
This, I felt, is the core theme in the movie. Anyone who's experienced love, in whatever form, will be able to relate to the relationships explored and presented in this movie:
a) Chow and Ziyi - passionate, physical, lust, starts with a bang and ends just as fast, one-sided (and of course, this provides the opportunity for a lot of eye candy.
b) Chow and Faye - one of respect, brotherly-sisterly love.
c) Faye and her Japanese Boyfriend - difficulties and challenges in a relationship, cultural differences, parental objection.
d) Faye and her father - father-daughter (duh!), parental love.
e) Chow and Carina - long lost friendship, what could have been.
f) Chow and Maggie - one of longing, what you could not have.
g) Chow and Gong Li - one of substitution, rebound, as Gong Li's character shares the same name as Maggie's Su Lizhen, and is chronologically the first female lead Chow gets involved with.
At times the movie drags, but if you're watching this film and feel that the pace is putting you to sleep, take a step back and explore the themes in the movie (I believe you'll be able to find something
different), and how it probably relates to you.
And I think you're in for a surprise.
This review first appeared in http://anutshellreview.blogspot.com
6. Review by Kenneth Lyen
(Beware of spoilers)
Rating: *** (out of four stars)
2046 is a film about loneliness, longing, and the futility of escaping from the fetters of past memories.
The version I saw in Singapore is the same as the one shown in Shanghai, and differs from the Hong Kong version in that the steamy bed scene with Carina Lau is deleted, and the dialogue is in Mandarin.
The significance of the title is explained by the Hong Kong director, Wong Kar Wai, in an interview with The Guardian. When Hong Kong was handed back by the British to China in 1997, the Chinese government promised that there would be no change for 50 years. 2046 is the last year of this promise.
In the film Tony Leung plays a newspaper journalist who is trying to write a science fiction novel entitled 2046. It is the year where time travelers can go to find lost memories, the year when time might stand still. Who knows what 2047 will bring?
2046 is also a room number in a sleazy hotel where protagonist Tony Leung first met Maggie Cheung in their earlier film "In the Mood for Love" (2001). It is the same room where he brings a drunk Carina Lau to sleep, but when he returns a couple of days later, she is no longer there, having been stabbed by a jealous boyfriend. Carina first appeared with Tony in the film "Days of Being Wild" (1991) and "Ashes of Time" (1994), both directed by Wong Kar Wai.
The room is later occupied by a dance hostess and prostitute, played by Zhang Ziyi. Tony Leung had wanted to take room 2046 in the hope of reliving his memories of Maggie Cheung, but settled for the room opposite, number 2047. He notices the number of male clients that Ziyi brings to her room, and he can hear the bed springs oscillating. He invites her to be his drinking partner. But when he tries to force a gift onto Ziyi, he is met with a slap on the face. This provokes Tony into a teasing verbal sparring with her. His persistence leads not only in her acceptance of the gift, but also himself as her new lover. Unfortunately Ziyi makes the mistake of falling in love with Tony, because he only views her as a temporary diversion. Heartbroken she moves out.
The final occupant of room 2046 is the hotel owner's daughter, played by Faye Wong. Previously she had appeared in the film "Chungking Express"(1994) with Tony Leung. She is passionately in love with a Japanese, Takuya Kimura. In real life he is a pop singer and teenage heart throb. Her father objects to this affair, and when he returns to Japan, she stays in Hong Kong. Faye suggests that Tony writes a science fiction novel based on her own life. In the novel, she is a humanoid living in the year 2046. Her boyfriend tries to persuade her to leave 2046, but she is unable to express any emotions, and is trapped in this time.
Wong Kar Wai does not tell the story in a linear manner. Time is shuffled like a pack of cards, and sometimes it is fast forwarded in a logarithmic manner. One travels to the future to find one's past.
The central theme of the film is about memories. The feeling of deja vu is particularly acute if you have seen any of Wong Kar Wai's previous films because he reprises the actors and recreates some of the visual imagery. This plays on the audience's memory. But things are not quite the same in the present day. Thus when Tony recognizes Carina Lau, who played the role of Lulu in "Days of Being Wild" (1991), she has changed her name, and does not remember him initially. Memorable songs like Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire, and Siboney, reinforce the audience's sense of deja vu (or should it be deja entendu?).
At the core of the film is Tony Leung's memories. He is trapped by his memories of Maggie Cheung, both having suppressed their love for each other in the past. It now leads him back to room 2046 where they first met.
While in "In the Mood for Love," Tony and Maggie never actually fulfil their love, in 2046, Tony beds a whole string of women. And yet he is not fulfilled. His new loves are hollow, and he is haunted by his memory of Maggie.
Tony has a brief affair with a gambler in Singapore, played by Gong Li. He is attracted to her and asks her to go to Hong Kong with him. She uses a card trick to reject his offer. He leaves in sorrow, but it is Gong Li who sheds tears of regret. Much later on, when Zhang Ziyi has fallen in love with Tony, she asks him not to have any other mistresses, and to be with her only, he rejects her. She sheds tears of sorrow. His act is reminiscent of Clark Gable in "Gone with the Wind" and makes him a cad.
Wong Kar Wai likes to break film-making rules. At film school you learn the dictum "show, don't tell." Kar Wai does the opposite. He uses voice-overs and quotations to tell the story rather than showing it. He fractures the storyline so that it is hard to follow. Style becomes more dominant than substance.
The film is suffused with a brooding mood, impregnated with angst and the melancholy of love rejected. This is now considered Wong Kar Wai's signature style. It has been imitated so much by younger film makers that it has become a cliche.
The cinematography is luscious and ravishing. Film critic Adrian Sim makes the following comments about the cinematographic techniques:
"By dividing the screen into half and choosing to depict action on one half, Wong Kar Wai has created a sense of visual unrest and claustrophobia. In so doing, the shots look visually arresting because of the more pronounced depth of field. He has also chosen to shoot about 90% of the film in interiors (i.e., the Oriental Hotel and train) creating an insular world that the lovelorn characters live in. Interestingly, the only exteriors shown are the barren alleys, the Computer Generated Imagery (CGI)-rendered futuristic Hong Kong skyline and black and white footage of civil unrest to present the contexts of his affairs. Wong Kar Wai has also deliberately cut away a lot of "look room" (that comfortable looking space) from the characters, such that the characters often appear talking to someone off screen, thus evoking the characters' dissociative psyche. Another Wong Kar Wai trademark to stir visual interest is the use of over-the-shoulder shots to cut away facial features of the person in the background (remember the obstructive use of billowing curtains to block characters' faces in Ashes of Time?). In a way, he attempts to dis-map the psychological domain of the often self-centred and deceptive characters (e.g., Tony Leung's Mr. Chow) rendering an impossibility in totally understanding them. The numerous mirror shots furthers the theme of claustrophobia and emotional entrapment. This utilizing of mirrors is quite predominant in the trilogy of films. Also interesting is the choice of a nonlinear narrative in tandem with Tony Leung's fragmented memories of his various beaus."
Overall, I like the film. The only part I didn't quite like is the sudden change in heart of Faye Wong's father when he says he will attend her wedding in Japan, adding that "all I wanted was for her to be happy." It does not ring true!
The acting is excellent all round. I am particularly impressed with Gong Li, and although she has relatively short screen time, she makes a great impact with her aristocratic bearing. Zhang Ziyi is also a fine actor, and has come a long way since her role as a teenage girl in Zhang Yimou's "The Road Home" (1999). She portrays the role of a vulnerable high class prostitute with skill and sensitivity. Tony Leung has a difficult part because he is basically a rascal, out to have a good time, and prepared to dump Ziyi who has fallen for him. He is convincing in this part.
I also like Faye Wong, with her impish look. Tony Leung asks her to help him complete the novel. When she leaves for Japan, she takes the draft with her. Later she writes to him and comments: "the ending is too sad; can you try to change it to a happier ending?" You then notice the title of the novel has been changed to "2047". Tony starts with the revision, and for a brief moment there is a ray of hope in his life.
Wallow in the seedy half-lit angst-filled world where time fluctuates, where lovers are easily available, but true love is not. The film is not everybody's cup of Chinese tea. It works for me, so therefore I recommend it.
2046 was nominated for the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2004.
7. Comments by metalmickey
I've always thought that when Wong Kar Wai does sequels, they are usually a riff on the original film, looking at them from a different angle, something like a tarot card and its reverse.
"Fallen Angels" was a sequel to "Chungking Express". The first movie was about the ennui of urban life, missed chances, coincidences, disconnectedness and dreams. "Fallen Angels" is the darker, quirkier cousin to "Chungking express". There's even less of a plot, but it deals with the darker flip side of yearning and dreaming - misery and disappointment. The sketches are looser, and it almost seems as though it was a cookie baked with leftover dough from "Chungking Express".
Similarly "2046" has the same relationship with "In the Mood for Love". Where In the Mood for Love is about the hallowed thrill of an illicit relationship he is unfortunately unable to consummate, "2046" is about the same embittered man who can have just about any woman he wants, but finds out that that singular thrill he associates with the forbidden fruit, Su Lizhen, is unavailable to him. In the Mood for Love was about sexual impotence, while 2046 is about emotional impotence.
What 2046 has in common with "Fallen Angels" is this: almost every relationship involves some kind of economic transaction, and this makes it very sad, because it's contrasted to In the Mood for Love when Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung very badly wanted to hump each other simply because they were, so to speak, in the mood for love. The fact that people don't return from 2046 is also very compelling. What is 2046? Is it deliverance from pain? Is it the process of forgetting, like the whispering of secrets into a rock? Is it disengagement from reality? A heroin habit?
If Gong Li is one of the less compelling characters, it's because she's playing the wealthy sophisticate, the least compelling of the three main roles in her career. (The other two are Beautiful Chinese Peasant and Vacuum Cleaner Salesman re: Osim). Notice that like the other Su Lizhen, they always have supper together.
Hong Kong is always contrasted with "Nanyang" in his 60s trilogy (As Tears Go By, In the Mood for Love, 2046), supposedly some sort of a wild west counterpart. Nanyang usually means either Singapore but it can also mean the Philippines.
Wong Kar Wai films are not meant to make sense. His films always have a poetic, often dreamlike logic to them. Strange things happen, but these things usually have an emotional resonance to them.
I take issue with those people who say that there should always only be one version of a film. There are many films whose central premise is multiple versions of the same story: Rashomon and Groundhog Day come to mind. There were at least two versions of Gilliam's Brazil. Some films, like the Butterfly Effect, are precisely about the uncertainty of reality and having multiple versions only underlines this point. Most importantly, when you dream at night, I'm sure there are times when you could have sworn there were two versions of your dream.