August 19, 2005


Directed by Wong Kar-Wai Starring Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Zhang Ziyi and Faye Wong

Reviewed by Martin Tsai

Wong Kar-Wai's films are the cinematic equivalent of formless jazz improvisations, harping on mood rather than substance. They are impossibly beautiful yet flatly vacuous. With 2046, he riffs off some of his previous efforts: it's the official sequel to In the Mood for Love, but it also recalls the director's Days of Being Wild and Chungking Express with a note or two from Ridley Scott's Blade Runner. It's somewhat startling that WKW has seemingly exhausted all of his ideas this early in the game. Apparently he did not have much to go on at the outset of 2046, which reportedly endured years of delays and extensive alterations during its production.

The title harkens to a hotel room number from In the Mood for Love, and is also coincidentally the final year in which Deng Xiaoping's "one nation, two systems" guarantee for the governance of Hong Kong would remain in effect. The sequel follows Tony Leung Chiu-Wai's newspaper sci-fi/soft-core pulp columnist Chow Mo-Wan in the late 1960s as the doomed affair in the previous film continues to haunt him and lead to his chauvinist womanizing. Each of his new conquests here represents a morsel of trivia that may fascinate hardcore WKW fans, although truthfully there's very little worthy of serious theorizing.

Leung’s longtime girlfriend Carina Lau plays a woman stabbed to death by her jealous boyfriend (Chang Chen of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in a thankless silent role). Faye Wong’s character Wang Jingwen is actually named after the singer/actress’s own former stage name, and she has a Japanese fixation here that replaces her California obsession in Chungking Express. Gong Li’s Su Lizhen is the namesake of Maggie Cheung’s characters from Days of Being Wild and In the Mood for Love. Having teamed up with Leung in Hero, Zhang Ziyi once again plays someone with unrequited love for his character. And three of director Zhang Yimou’s muses (Gong, Zhang Ziyi and Jie Dong) make appearances here. Got it?

The most mind-boggling direction in 2046 is something subtitle-readers won't likely pick up on: The majority of the conversations in the film actually involve two characters speaking vastly different dialects or languages, so technically they shouldn't even understand each other. Wong possibly pioneered this scheme with Chungking Express (Shunji Iwai and Takashi Miike later borrowed it) to achieve a sense of pan-Pacific multiculturalism that in reality isn't truly prevalent in the mostly homogenized Asian cultures. Even though William Chang's retro-chic designs and Christopher Doyle's kaleidoscopic cinematography are always something to behold, their exoticness doesn't really elevate WKW's nonsensical Crayola-coloured films beyond pretentious stylistic exercises.

Reprinted from WestEnder. © Copyright 2005 Martin Tsai. All rights reserved.