reviewed by Tom-Tom
I think it can be said that Wong-Kar-wai doesn’t make typical films. He does, however, make interesting ones filled with longing and brooding emotional reflection. He’s not incapable of lightness as evidenced by the rom-com Chungking Express. Tony Leung is a frequent collaborator and here he stars as well sporting a dapper mustache and a smart suit to match. 2046 has a pulpy feel to it with a femme fatale playing doomed role in 1960’s Singapore showgirl attire complete with coiffed hair, dangling earrings, and a cigarette holder. Tony’s character Chow Mo-Wan (interestingly the same name as his character in the director’s Hong Kong Academy Award Winning film “In the Mood for Love”) is a writer wandering around in ennui writing anything and everything to get by. On his journey, he meets a parade of different ladies some real, some imaginary, and some a bit of both. He’s writing a serial novel called, you guessed it, 2046. It is a mysterious subject at once a time, a place, a feeling, a memory. Enter the sexy and beautiful Zhang Ziyi playing Miss Bai, a fiery, feisty tenant of the room numbered with the film’s namesake. This is the age of one phone per public building and the personal dramas can be heard by all in the front lobby of the Oriental Hotel in which most of the film’s events take place.
Christmas Eve comes and goes (24-66, kind of a long shot with the numbers bringing with it more brooding conversations with Chow and Miss Bai speculating over the values of monogamy and promiscuity. There are lengthy scenes in black and white as they are driven home in a taxi and Chow makes to grope her thigh. Her expression is complicated. So is ours as we ponder why the director is going on at such length. So starts their affair with explicit sex scenes. Zhang certainly has a wicked bad girl grin about her. It hides her true feelings. Her smile is a precursor to love or violence. It’s quite a captivating performance. She and Chow play a sort of tit-for-tat psychological warfare attempting to make other jealous by having affairs with a ragged assortment of lovers. This interesting tale dies away for a lesser one featuring Japanese Pop idol Takuya Kimura, playing a Japanese businessman in love with the Oriental Hotel’s owner’s daughter. As World War II is only 20 years over, you can imagine the owner’s feelings about Japanese in general. Chow offers to assist in conveying their letters back and forth. She’s an aspiring writer and hopes to learn from the resident author. She provides inspiration for his 2046 tale anyhow which is called 2047 by this point.
The future scenes are probably the best in the film, with the unnatural movements and voices of the android cabin attendants and the lonely nature of the situation of “being in 2046” the place, the time, the feeling, the memory. The Rachmaninoff Vocalise-like theme repeats a little too much for comfort. Before we know it, we’re back in the 1960’s in that damn hotel on Christmas Eve again, a lonely time for our writer and his apprentice. The remainder of the film has nothing more to offer us but achingly slow panning in and out of the current main characters, seemingly pointless conversations heavy with drama and woe. There’s a final mildly interesting story featuring Gong Li but at this point we are exhausted with all of the affairs and whining and tears and just want the film to be over. The film won’t oblige and we’re stuck with a drunk Miss Bai and Chow passing around money. Will they be together? Will they go their separate ways? At this point I didn’t really care much. Everyone’s so desperately trying to be as neurotically unhappy as possible that we give up on any possible outcome. 2046 could have been much deeper and streamlined and could have even done without a few sidetrips along the way. Was Gong Li’s story absolutely necessary? Was Faye Wong’s? Barring a special edition editing out the unnecessary, I can’t bring myself to recommend this creative but bloated and overextended film.