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(top row, left to right) Takuya Kimura, Faye Wong, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Zhang Ziyi, and Gong Li
(bottom row, left to right) Dong Jie, Maggie Cheung, and director Wong Kar-Wai
  Year: 2004  
  Director: Wong Kar-Wai  
  Producer: Wong Kar-Wai, Zhang Yimou, Eric Heumann, Amedeo Panaghi, Mark Sillam
  Writer: Wong Kar-Wai
  Cast: Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Gong Li, Takuya Kimura, Faye Wong, Zhang Ziyi, Carina Lau Ka-Ling, Chang Chen, Wang Sum, Siu Ping-Lam, Maggie Cheung Man-Yuk, Thongchai McIntyre, Dong Jie, Miao Feilin, Farini Chang, Berg Ng Ting-Yip
The Skinny: After too many years in the making, this latest film from Wong Kar-Wai sparkles with wondrous cinema beauty and the famed director's pet themes. It's also overindulgent and overstuffed, and wheezes to the end of its overlong 2-hour running time. There's plenty worth recommending in the auteur's latest work, but unearthing 2046's treasures requires more than a little effort.
by Kozo:

The big joke these past few years has been that Wong Kar-Wai would finish his latest film 2046 by the year 2046. Well...he beat the clock. Arriving in 2004 for the Cannes Film Festival (barely), 2046 has been subject to more scrutiny and international attention than any Asian art house film likely ever has. However, despite the high international profile, 2046 is still your standard Wong Kar-Wai film, meaning lots of voice-over, elliptical storytelling, and microscopic attention to pathetic human emotion. The result is predictably beautiful and heartbreakingly existential, but at the same time Wong Kar-Wai is perhaps too enamored of his own impressive genius. 2046 is a stunning feast of art house cinema goodness, but given the auteur's towering body of work, it's also a bit of a letdown.

Tony Leung Chiu-Wai stars as Chow Mo-Wan, a man with the same name and history as the lead character of In the Mood for Love. However, they aren't the same guy. Probably. Whereas the Chow Mo-Wan of In the Mood for Love was a married writer engaged in a torrid non-affair with the married Su Li-Zhen (Maggie Cheung), the Chow Mo-Wan of 2046 is a womanizing writer of nearly-erotic fiction, who plies his trade in Hong Kong newspapers to make money for his nightly debauchery. Leaving Singapore and a mysterious woman in black (Gong Li), Chow sets himself up in Hong Kong in apartment 2047, which is next to the eponymous apartment 2046. Initially, Chow wanted residence in 2046, but the room needed to be remodeled. He took 2047, someone else got 2046, and Chow begins spending his days voyeuristically checking out the people who wander in and around the ominously-numbered room.

His objects of attention are various stunningly-attractive characters, many of whom are falling in and out of love. The landlord's daughter, Wang Jing Wen (Faye Wong), is in love with a Japanese man (Japanese heartthrob Takuya Kimura) but her father disapproves of the union. Meanwhile, 2046's previous resident Lulu (Carina Lau) disappeared mysteriously, and the latest dweller of 2046, Bai Ling (Zhang Ziyi) is an elegant and seemingly snooty call girl. Chow starts an affair with Bai, but their union is one of convenience and unknown emotional truth. Both seem to be the same person: casual lovers in late sixties Hong Kong, whose lives move forward with languid aimlessness, while history (i.e., the famous Hong Kong riots of the sixties) occurs in the background. Presumably, lives will change and events occur in dramatic fashion, such that history and personal drama will collide in glorious cinematic sparks. Right?

Dead wrong. This is a Wong Kar-Wai movie, and people in Wong Kar-Wai movies are most notable for their startling sense of inaction. 2046 seemingly follows suit, presenting Chow Mo-Wan as a character mired in an almost hedonistic existence. Meanwhile, he's obsessed with the number 2046. While observing the lives around him, Chow pens a series of futuristic stories, with the characters within his fiction representing those he meets in his life. The characters are all attempting to reach a place called 2046 where supposedly nothing ever changes. In Chow's stories we meet android lovers (played by Faye Wong and Carina Lau), and a mysterious Japanese traveler (Takuya Kimura), who becomes the only man to end up leaving 2046. The revelation of his journey away from the mythical unchanging 2046 is not given away in bold drama or resolute statement of purpose. Nope, it's doled out in voice-over and many static shots of actors looking at something out of frame. And yes, it's all supposed to mean something.

The metaphorical implications of the number 2046 are obvious. Aside from being the apartment number for mysterious disappearing tenants and the hot next-door neighbor, 2046 is the number of the hotel room where Chow Mo-Wan and Su Li-Zhen shared their near-tryst in In the Mood for Love. Yeah, this Chow Mo-Wan is different, but Wong Kar-Wai insists on using the same history for a man who's obviously a different person. 2046 also has deeper cultural-political meaning. Back in 1997, the Chinese government decreed that Hong Kong would remain unchanged (i.e., not shifting from its self-governed capitalist lifestyle) for fifty years, meaning until the year 2046. That, coupled with Chow Mo-Wan's assertion that 2046 is "a place where things remain unchanged" gives the number charged significance. Does this mythical 2046 actually exist? Or is it all a carefully constructed lie? Is Wong Kar-Wai taking a cinematic swipe at the Handover and all its potential pitfalls?

Not likely. Instead of using the number 2046 as a way of creating sociopolitical meaning, Wong Kar-Wai does what he always does. He takes the idea of an "unchanging place", and relates it to the things that matter to him: people, emotions, and their ever-precious memories. Like in nearly every Wong Kar-Wai film ever made, the existence of memory proves paralyzing and harmful to his characters, and their ability to adapt or not is ultimately where their journey lies. Given this overused, but nonetheless potent theme, Wong Kar-Wai gives his characters heartbreaking life. Zhang Ziyi's Bai Ling is crushed by her memories of unexpected love, whereas Chow Mo-Wan has let his life settle in neutral as a result. Wang Jing Wen is driven to near-madness by her adherence to her emotions, but unlike the other characters, she escapes with perhaps a better fate. Chow Mo-Wan's relationship to these women (he develops a friendship with Wang Jing Wen, and more is revealed about his past with the character played by Gong Li) reveals different facets of Wong Kar-Wai's usual themes, and all of them relate back to Chow Mo-Wan. Is he going to be a stick in the mud? Or will he move forward like a character in a Jerry Bruckheimer movie would?

Well...the actual outcome of 2046 is not what really matters. In Wong Kar-Wai movies, it's the journey (or the train ride, in this case) that matters, and there are enough moments of cinematic beauty in 2046 to make the journey a worthy one. Aside from the award-worthy efforts of Wong Kar-Wai's usual cohorts, cinematographer Christopher Doyle (assisted here by Lai Yiu-Fai and Kwan Pun-Leung) and art director William Cheung Suk-Ping, it's the performances that make 2046 sing. Tony Leung Chiu-Wai is dependably charismatic, though sometimes a bit smug, but Zhang Ziyi and Faye Wong both turn in remarkable performances. Wong's sixties look recalls Cathay starlet Jeanette Lin Cui, and her wide-eyed gazes and emotional tenderness make her character an especially sympathetic one. Zhang Ziyi gets to act with her face and her emotions, and not through the screeching of expository dialogue that she's usually given to. If past Wong Kar-Wai films have shown us anything, it's that the director has the remarkable ability to wring gorgeous, surprising performances from his actors. The fact that these are "hot all over Asia" popstars is just a bonus.

On the other hand, Wong Kar-Wai seems to have backtracked on the progress he made with In the Mood for Love. Whereas that movie blossomed onscreen without the use of voice-over or time-shifting storylines, 2046 returns to those narrative techniques that were once synonymous with Wong Kar-Wai's work. 2046 is largely held together by Chow Mo-Wan's voice-over, which is great thanks to the abundance of details given minute or passing focus. Lots of details get thrown at the audience, including the existence of Wang Jing Wen's precocious sister (the feisty Dong Jie), and the mystery of Lulu's supposed jealous lover (Chang Chen, getting almost zero screen time). It seems like Wong Kar-Wai made five separate films within 2046, and eventually pieced it together Frankenstein-style and stitched it up with voice-over. The tactic works, as 2046 does prove to be coherent. However, the film wanders at times, and subsequently becomes less compelling than the tightened, consistent journey of In the Mood for Love.

The film's aimlessness is a tough quibble, as it's that quicksilver, elliptical storytelling that once caused many people to fall desperately in love with Wong Kar-Wai's work. However, 2046 ups the ante with the overabundance of characters, many of whom are given short shrift by Wong's need to make the film less than an epic. He doesn't really succeed anyway, because at two hours-plus, 2046 becomes a bit of a chore. Some parts work much better than others, while others seem to be swept under the rug moments after they occur. The final third of the film, which concentrates on Chow Mo-Wan's connection to the Gong Li character, zips by without the generous attention given to previous stories, rendering it more exposition than emotion. Furthermore, the ending of the film comes off as emotionally cold. There's loaded meaning in the narrative entity that is 2046, but it seems to be more spoken than experienced.

Ultimately, the biggest problem with 2046 is that it's simply too much Wong Kar-Wai. It's ironic that a film about choosing change over static existence would spend so much time reliving "Wong Kar-Wai's Greatest Hits." Within the first twenty minutes of 2046, Wong Kar-Wai goes back to In the Mood for Love and Days of Being Wild—and the self-reflexive nods to his previous work just keep coming. Still, complaining about all of this is exceptionally nit-picky because within its bloated exterior 2046 possesses many moments of fine, fleeting beauty that make it well worth a viewing. Minute gestures, moments of emotional longing, and the eclectic soundtrack all help make 2046 a wondrous cinematic experience—it's just that the final product isn't as successful as Wong Kar-Wai's other works. This is likely a reaction to enlarged expectations, and 2046 certainly pumps them up with its pseudo science-fiction interludes (which are intriguing, but not capitalized on), massive cast of "It" names, and allusions to greater historical and cultural significance. It all becomes a bit too much, and 2046 can't match its nominal aspirations. But even a partly-successful Wong Kar-Wai film is head-and-shoulders above most of the stuff out there. (Kozo 2004)

Notes: • The Guangdong Face DVD is pretty much a travesty of current home video technology. The transfer is non-anamorphic, soft, and grainy, and there exists an annoying "Face" watermark which appears in the upper left hand corner every 5 or so minutes when the English subtitle track is turned on. There will be soon be a Hong Kong DVD of 2046, and it's likely to be much better than this one.
• If you actually reached the end of this review, you are hereby given the "Special Award", which is awarded to people who can take the long-winded ramblings that Kozo subjects people to. It also proves that you like to read, though the quality of your actual reading material is debatable.
Awards: 24th Annual Hong Kong Film Awards
• Winner - Best Actor (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai)
• Winner - Best Actress (Zhang Ziyi)
• Winner - Best Cinematography (Christopher Doyle, Lai Yiu-Fai, Kwan Pun-Leung)
• Winner - Best Art Direction (William Cheung Suk-Ping, Alfred Yau Wai-Ming)
• Winner - Best Costume Design and Make-up (William Cheung Suk-Ping)
• Winner - Best Original Film Score (Peer Raben, Shigeru Umebayashi)
• Nomination - Best Picture
• Nomination - Best Director (Wong Kar-Wai)
• Nomination - Best Screenplay (Wong Kar-Wai)
• Nomination - Best Editing (William Cheung Suk-Ping)
• Nomination - Best Sound Effects (Claude Letessier, Tu Du-Chih)
• Nomination - Best Visual Effects (Guillaume Raffi, Sonia Holst, Nadir Benhassaine, Nicolas Bonnell)
41st Golden Horse Awards
• Winner - Best Art Direction (William Cheung Suk-Ping, Yau Chak-Ming)
• Winner - Best Original Film Score (Shigeru Umebayashi, Peer Raben)
• Nomination - Best Picture
• Nomination - Best Actor (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai)
• Nomination - Best Actress (Zhang Ziyi)
• Nomination - Best Cinematography (Christopher Doyle, Lai Yiu-Fai, Kwan Pun-Leung)
• Nomination - Best Make-up and Costume Design (William Cheung Suk-Ping, Yau Chak-Ming)
• Nomination - Best Sound Effects (Tu Du-Chih)
11th Annual Hong Kong Film Critics Society Awards
• Recommended Film
• Winner - Best Actor (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai)
• Winner - Best Actress (Zhang Ziyi)
Availability: DVD (HK)
Region 0 NTSC
Mei Ah Entertainment
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
Various Extras
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc
images courtesy of Jet Tone Pictures Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen