2046 Movie Review
This time, Tony Leung's Chow Mo-Wan is far from the repressed creature that he played in Love, eternally suffering for the married beauty living in his apartment building. Mo-Wan is now going through all the highs and lows of numerous affairs in 1960s Hong Kong, playing out almost an entire history of love within the space of one film. The title comes from the number of the apartment next to his, wherein reside a number of women with whom we will see him become entangled over the course of the film. 2046 is also the name of a science fiction serial he scribbles down (part of the dues he pays as a struggling hack writer), scenes of which we see acted out, watching its hero endure an eternal train ride away from the mysterious place called 2046, where everybody goes to reclaim lost memories and never returns from; except him.
In between these segments is something more familiar to lovers of Love: a richly documented love affair between Leung, a number of gorgeous actresses, and the art of cinema itself. There are filmmakers who can have their actors take well-decorated and nicely-lit poses in mod clothing while smoking cigarettes, but still leave such scenes mostly inert (Kieslowski's Three Colors trilogy comes to mind). Wong's skill is that he is able to shuffle together a seemingly static series of images and bring them ecstatically to life. The film's richly layered look (courtesy of three cinematographers) and century-spanning soundtrack (from opera to Latin dances to Nat King Cole) creates a world in which Leung's moody longings over and passionate clutches with the women who swoon in and out of his life becomes a thing in and of itself. There is drama aplenty, from affairs to gambling debts and murder, though it can seem to move as slow as dripping molasses. Which is just fine, really, all the more time to watch cigarette smoke curling towards a ruined ceiling, the shifting of colors on the women's chic, high-necked dresses, the smile that occasionally drifts across Leung's rakish womanizer's face; like most of Wong's work, 2046 is ultimately more narcotic than cinema, and another hit is always welcome.
There's a strong possibility that this film is Wong's summing up of his career so far, the ultimate expression of his sinuous vision and perhaps a goodbye to it. There are allusions (some overt, others less so) to his earlier work, from Love to Fallen Angels and even Ashes of Time, his gonzo 1994 martial arts film, which played with time and memory almost as much as 2046 does. With all this self-referencing comes the occasional whiff of repetition as well, which lingers no matter how many amazing actresses Wong is able to pack into one film -- Gong Li is, no surprise, perfectly adept in her role as a black widow gambler, but it's Ziyi Zhang, carrying on a long and doomed affair with Leung, who really shines here, refining her usual bratty impatience to a more distilled performance that's nothing less than heartbreaking.
At some point, that thing which Wong Kar Wai does - whatever the hell it is - will become tiresome and rote, but fortunately for all those craving such overwhelmingly romantic filmmaking, that point seems still a long time away.
She's in the mood for sci-fi.