Year Released: 2004
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 127 minutes
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After several years of work on “2046,” Wong Kar-wai has revealed a result surprisingly reminiscent of his usual atmospheric virtuosity and exploration of personal conflicts. With the exception of a few scenes, the film has little traces of science-fiction and takes place in China during the last half of the 1950s, but still contains many of the lush visuals that have marked Wong’s career.
The first five dazzling minutes of the film make the rest of it seem rather uneventful. A shot moves away from a chair in a strangely designed room, then a train races through a black, white and sparsely colored animated city while another shot tracks through the archways of a train tunnel. A voiceover explains that people take the long train to 2046 when they want to catch their memories and not change. He, however, needs change, and has decided to leave 2046—something no one has ever done before.
As intriguing as this may sound, there isn’t much more to this bit of information. The futuristic story takes up very little screen time, and probably consists of about half that time in material, as most of it is repeated. It isn’t the work you’d expect from its supposed author, the film’s hero, Chow Mo Wan (Tony Leung Chiu Wai), an out of work journalist who mainly writes pornographic fiction to pay the bills—or spend before he pays the bills.
His story is one of love affairs in rooms with the same number, 2046. He has built himself a life of loving carelessly, spending frivolously, and throwing parties at the end of each month to pay the rent. (The landlord gets to take his gift money out of what Chow owes.) He builds a friendship with Su Li Zhen (Gong Li) in which he reveals his lifestyle, but the ultimate goal of seduction is, of course, doomed to lead back to his normal lifestyle.
Wong follows each romantic episode with interesting compositions, as the longest one, with Zhen, begins after Chow moves to apartment 2047 after a brief affair reminds him of his love for room number 2046. The relationship begins as the woman hears and feels the vibrations of Chow having sex with a woman and yells at them to be quiet, so she might have guessed that this isn’t the most promising man for a long-term relationship. The two straddle a balance between their intermittent needs for each other, as both at times prostitute themselves and take advantage of the other’s love.
The cinematography by the great Christopher Doyle, Kwan Pun Leung and Lai Yiu Fai create the beautiful yellow tones of the faded hotels and lost dreams. The haunting images make up for the sometimes dull elements that populate the minutes between the strong opening and closing.
The most interesting woman is the first with whom Chow has a relationship, seen in flashback after other failed affairs. A lucky woman with an enigmatic past, she makes her money taking a small fee while gambling for others who need more money.
Wong takes his rather unlikable leading man through a whirl of relationships in order to reveal his vulnerable side. Chow gives the impression that he’s learned something emotionally from each relationship, but leaves to question how he might actually apply what he’s learned. Change comes slowly and painfully, as seen in the futuristic story’s long, cold train ride. When Chow’s earliest relationship comes in flashback, it brings to question whether it changed him for the worse, or whether it only started to affect him later, when he and the film look closely at it.
That and the short futuristic storyline create the most fascinating and visually interesting moments in the story, as the man returning from 2046 asks an android to leave the train and be his love, but doesn’t know if her lack of reaction is a malfunction in her emotional chips or because she doesn’t want to go. Unfortunately, this part only pops up in the beginning and end.
The voiceovers and some visual sequences also tend to repeat themselves, and this is obviously part of an effort to create some rhythm and refrains within the film. However, they don’t all work, such as the playing of Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song” in its entirety four times and voiceovers that offer the same information in a slightly different phrasing. There is no real structure behind the repetition, and while I admire Wong’s effort to create a kaleidoscope of memory, much of it becomes tiresome after two hours.
The fascinating visuals and performances by Leung and the assortment of actresses like Gong, Zhang Ziyi and Maggie Cheung ensure that the film is still worth watching.
Posted on August 2, 2005 in Reviews by Jeremy Mathews
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