A FilmExposed Film Review
Dir: Kar Wai Wong, 2004, China/France/Germany/Hong Kong, 129 mins, Subtitles
Cast: Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Li Gong, Takuya Kimura, Faye Wong, Ziyi Zhang, Maggie Cheung
At Cannes 2000, Wong Kar Wai won critical and popular acclaim with In the Mood for Love – a somber tale of the repressed relationship between two loners, Chow (Leung) and Su Li Zhen (Cheung), who discover that their partners are embroiled in an affair. Leung was honoured with the Best Actor award, before going on to make Infernal Affairs, and both remain in huge demand. 2046 continues the story, and in exploring the consequences of that brief encounter, adds dramatic weight and poignancy to the original.
It’s now the late 60’s and Chow’s back in Hong Kong, albeit with a new playboy image, yet still nursing the scars of love. While ITMFL was all stifled repression, here the libido bubble has well and truly burst. Chow lives in a dingy hotel room, number 2047, and ploughs his way through the local females – a feisty prostitute (Ziyi), his landlord’s daughter (Wong), and a mysterious gambler by the name of ‘Black Spider’ (Li). Chow’s sadist and chauvinistic treatment of these women maintains his psychological distance from them, necessary both for self-defence, and his rebellion against love.
Chow rests from his philandering by writing a pulp sci-fi story called ‘2046’, about a futuristic train service on which people travel to relocate their lost memories. As he becomes more engrossed in his fiction, Chow begins to displace himself and those around him into the narrative. However, while emphasising Chow’s need to emotionally process the past, these sequences disrupt the momentum of what is already a confusing, circular plot.
The entire film is shot with a soft, dreamlike quality, often playing in slow motion, with each frame passing in front of the projection light like a drop of water. The (three) cinematographers use hefty amounts of close-up, flattering the actors, but complementing their subtlety. Leung is effortlessly cool and trademark Wai, smoking his cigarettes in the rain under the glow of a neon light. Waves of affection are contained in a single batting of Zhang’s eyelids, as she unconsciously charms Chow’s heavy heart, laying the painful memories of Su Li Zhen to rest.
The love-quadrangle unfolds against a fusion of blues, upbeat electrica and classical opera, which is bright enough to ensure that the film doesn’t grind to a halt under its own melancholy. 2046 took four years to complete, but the end result is slow and dignified, luxurious, and quite rightly unrushed.