Another achingly evocative and melancholy near-masterpiece from virtuoso writer-director Wong Kar-Wai, "2046" is breathtakingly beautiful and lush with color, narratively dense and psychologically complex, and blessed with vivid, visceral performances that burst at the seams with reserved passion.
Its tender yet abrasive story catches up with Chow (Tony Leung), one of the broken-hearted lovers from Wong's unforgettable "In the Mood for Love," years after the affair that redefined his life has ended. Now a cold, slippery, charming, Brylcreem-ed playboy, newspaper hack and pulp writer in 1960s Hong Kong, he lives a film-noir life (complete with gritty voice-over and dark wit) in a semi-seedy hotel, across the hall from Room 2046 where he once spent the night with the love of his life. Lately the room has been occupied by a string of beautiful women (Gong Li, Faye Wong and Zhang Ziyi among them), and Chow seduces (or is seduced by) each of them in turn, often with unforeseen emotional consequences.
These liaisons and the quiet turmoil they produce in his leathered soul serve as fuel for Chow's latest dime novel, a highly symbolic science-fiction story of ardent rebel activists and android women incapable of love, set largely onboard a bullet train speeding on elevated tracks through worldwide skyscraper canyons in the year 2046. (The title -- which is also the year China's promise of sovereignty for Hong Kong expires -- crops up many times.)
Wong offers brief glimpses of this future in scenes of stylized, slightly unreal CGI imagery. These episodes -- which feature most of the cast in enigmatic secondary roles -- blend stark, streamlined 1960s futurism and angular 1980s flamboyance, but the director keeps the bulk of the film firmly grounded in the 1960s with his trademarked simple-yet-sumptuous iconic visions of curve-hugging silk dresses, cuff links, beehive hairdos and coiling cigarette smoke.
Working again with genius director of photography Christopher Doyle (although two other cinematographers shot several sections), Wong often forces the eye to his characters' faces by shifting them into shadowy corners of the frame or hiding half of them behind doorways, and somehow finds resounding poignancy in shots of nothing more than a woman's hips or a pacing pair of high-heeled shoes.
Body language always says more than words, and his cast rises to the task, none more so than Zhang (best known in the U.S. for "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"), who is also more gorgeous than ever all dolled up in snug '60s attire. Her petulant but vulnerable femme-fatale prostitute always seems as likely to slap Chow as she is to kiss him, and the actress's ability to envelop the viewer in this woman's psyche with little more than a glance is truly mesmerizing.
Time is loosely structured in "2046," lingering in the residual emotion of some scenes, crashing through others in near-montage style, and not clearly headed in a single direction or toward a traditional conclusion. The film also has only a wispy sense of the outside world or its characters' lives outside the moments of intensity they share on screen. Wong's structural choices can be confusing, but take the film in as you would a fine wine -- letting it breathe, savoring it slowly on your cerebral palate -- and its intricate flavor becomes both richer and more lucid as its bouquet fills every heady inch of the screen.
Run time: 129 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 29th September 2004
Box Office USA: $1.2M
Box Office Worldwide: $19.3M
Distributed by: Sony Pictures Classics
Production compaines: Paradis Films, Orly Films
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 85%
Fresh: 96 Rotten: 17
IMDB: 7.5 / 10
Director: Wong Kar-Wai
Starring: Tony Leung Chiu-Wai as Chow Mo-Wan, Zhang Ziyi as Bai Ling, Faye Wong as Wang Jing Wen, Takuya Kimura as Tak, Gong Li as Su Li-Zhen, Carina Lau as Lulu/Mimi, Siu Ping-Lam as Ah Ping, Maggie Cheung as Su Li-Zhen, Dong Jie as Wang Jie Wen, Bird McIntyre as Bird, Chang Chen as cc 1966, Wong Sam as Mr Wang
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