Overall Rating: (3)

James Kendrick

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Directors: Wong Kar-Wai
Screenplay: Wong Kar-Wai
Stars: Tony Leung Chiu Wai (Chow Mo Wan), Li Gong (Su Li Zhen), Takuya Kimura (Tak), Faye Wong (Wang Jing Wen / wjw1967), Ziyi Zhang (Bai Ling), Carina Lau (Lulu / Mimi), Chen Chang (cc1966), Wang Sum (Mr. Wang / Train Captain), Ping Lam Siu (Ah Ping), Maggie Cheung (Slz1960)
MPAA Rating: R
Year of Release: 2005
Country: China / France / Germany / Hong Kong
2046When Wong Kar-Wai's 2046 arrived famously at the tail end of the 2003 Cannes Film Festival, added at the very last minute, it was in an incomplete state. Although it had been in production for nearly three years, with multiple rewritings and reshoots, Wong Kar-Wai had not finished editing it and its brief visual effects were not finalized. Now that the film has been given its official international release and has arrived in U.S. theaters, many viewers may leave scratching their heads, wondering if Wong Kar-Wai ever finished editing the film, of if he simply gave up at some point.

Even in its arguably unfinished state, 2046 is, like most of Wong Kar-Wai's films, visually ravishing and deeply melancholy. Its multiple, interlocking narratives, which take place in the present, past, and future and also in various forms of "reality," loop back across each other like unfinished ideas swirling in a heated stew of frustrated romanticism. The film's fractured nature and sense of incompleteness frustrate on the level of story, as it is often difficult to tell what is happening and even who is who (some actors play multiple roles), but it heightens the film's emotional undertones, making its visions of sadness, missed opportunities, and human destructiveness that much more pointed.

The majority of the story takes place in Hong Kong in the late 1960s. Tony Leung Chiu-Wai returns as Chow Mo Wan, the character he played in Wong Kar-Wai's last feature film, the devastatingly beautiful In the Mood for Love (2000). In that film, Chow fell in love with one of his neighbors, Su Li Zhen (played by Maggie Cheung, who makes a brief appearance in 2046), but they were never able to consummate their passion because their respective spouses were having an affair and to do so would make them no better. This experience has clearly had a profound and disturbing impact on Chow, as he has become a bitter and cynical womanizer who moves back into the hotel where he and Su Li Zhen used to meet in room 2046.

Thus, much of the film entails his various entanglements with different women who live in the hotel, including a beautiful call girl (Ziyi Zhang), the daughter of the hotel manager (Faye Wong), and a professional gambler (Li Gong) who mysteriously never removes her black gloves and who bears the same name as Chow's long-lost love. These relationships are often marked by physical intimacy, yet emotional distance, the exact opposite of his relationship with Su Li Zhen.

Chow's emotional estrangement is further heightened by his writing. Throughout the film, he is writing a story called "2046" about a futuristic scenario in which people can ride high-speed tube trains to a place where they can reclaim their memories. The trick is that no one knows what the effect is because no one ever returns. Thus, the film's title suggests the tantalizing notion of being able to bury ourselves in our memories, which are almost always better than the events they mark. 2046 is both a time (the future) and a place (where memories are, as well as the hotel room in the present), which entangles the ethereal with the material, the present with the future.

At one point in the film, Chow says in his narration "Love is all about timing," which is one of the central themes of Wong Kar-Wai's work. Love too early or too late is wasted, and Chow seems to be cursed by both. With his brooding, Bogart-like persona, Chow is a wounded creature hiding behind an exterior shell of toughness, and all the visual beauty in 2046 enhances, rather than masks, the deep pains at its core. It's a film that is hard to summarize and even harder to explain, but when you walk of the theater, you know you've experienced something, even if you can't quite name it.

Copyright ©2005 James Kendrick

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