2046 (12A)

Written by and Directed by Wong Kar-Wai
Screening at FACT from 28th January 2005

Reviewed by Tim Kopp

Best understood as an epilogue to and a reflection on the events of In The Mood For Love, Wong Kar-Wai’s new film is a slightly overlong and unfocused blend of romance and science fiction. The sensual, vivid style and cinematography of its wonderful predecessor is recreated in diluted form but 2046 still has its moments thanks to the excellent cast. *** out of five

Hong Kong in the late 1960s. Still haunted by memories of his former neighbour Su Luzhen and their relationship that never materialised, writer Chow returns to Hong Kong after a stint in Singapore. He escorts old friend Liu-Liu to the Oriental Hotel where he associates her room 2046 with his past experiences with Su Luzhen. Renting the room next door, Chow starts an affair with prostitute Bai Ling who moves into 2046 after Liu-Liu’s murder by a jealous lover. However, Chow is so emotionally scarred that he finds himself incapable of committing to and consummating a relationship with Bai. Eventually he begins to reflect on his experiences and the women in his life by continuing his science-fiction newspaper serial about the time and place of 2046 where people travel to in order to recapture and relive their memories.

Five years in the making, 2046, Wong Kar-Wai’s long-awaited follow-up to his masterwork about unfulfilled romance, In the Mood For Love, is an intriguing companion piece to the earlier film but it is a strangely unfocused work. The gestation of 2046 has been a long, complicated and strenuous process, with the director repeatedly revising and changing his vision of what the finished film should be. Consequently, it has placed a burden of such great expectations on the picture that only a truly sensational film could have met them. The film’s prolonged development also accounts for why it still feels incomplete: for all its ambitions, it doesn’t develop its ideas to their full potential, and it lacks the clarity necessary to make the different elements come together and form a coherent whole. That this should be the case in spite of the streamlining that reportedly took place after the mixed reception of last year’s Cannes version proves that the director’s improvisational approach can sometimes work to his disadvantage. Wong Kar-Wai evidently wanted to revisit the era and themes of In The Mood For Love, to expand and reflect on the idea of melancholic yearning for unattainable love and the state of solitude. 2046 is therefore a continuation of Chow’s story in the film’s present of late 1960’s Hong Kong while creating parallels in the relationships of the couples surrounding Chow and within the science-fiction stories that he writes. The director also sees 2046 as a summary of the motives, themes and styles of his earlier films but his attempt to realise these ambitions only destabilises the film.

It is not necessary to have seen In The Mood For Love and earlier Wong Kar-Wai films to make sense of the references and quotations within 2046, but it goes without saying that knowledge of his work enhances the experience and understanding of the film. Its most fully realised segment is the main storyline in which Chow, hardened and heartbroken, tries but fails to start a relationship with several women in the hope to experience again the happiness and sense of belonging he felt during his time with Su Luzhen. The film is concise in describing how Chow’s cynicism and anxiety affects his treatment of a female gambler in Singapore (who is also called Su Luzhen), prostitute Bai Ling and the hotel owner’s daughter Jingwen. Most effective is Chow’s relationship with Bai because of the interplay between Tony Leung and Zhang Ziyi who capture Chow’s emotional detachment and Bai’s vulnerability perfectly. In these scenes, 2046 comes closest to equalling the earlier film’s eloquent expression of loneliness, melancholy and longing for love. The remaining segments involving Jingwen and the Singapore Su Luzhen are less dynamic, and although their often direct quotations and repetitions of moments from In The Mood For Love makes perfect sense within the theme of 2046, these scenes feel comparatively slight. Even the combination of Spanish love songs and the period mise en scène with its vibrant colours is less entrancing than it used to be. Likewise, Wong’s use of elliptical editing and slow-motion to accentuate the sensual qualities of a given moment feels increasingly stale in its over-familiarity. Furthermore, there are the references to Wong’s larger body of work: Liu-Liu, a character from his 1990 feature, Days Of Being Wild, makes a fleeting appearance early on, but these scenes hardly register because her story feels heavily trimmed down. Meanwhile, the science-fiction sub-plot amounts to little more than a series of impressive images, and Wong is simply content to use those elements to reflect the characters’ mindsets and relationships in the present. Yet the science-fiction narrative doesn’t reveal anything significantly new or different that would deepen or change the meaning of the film. Compelling in parts but intrinsically flawed, 2046 is a fascinating failure.