by Erin Paulson
Wong Kar Wai’s latest is beautifully indescribable.
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This is yet another film I’m biased toward, as Wong Kar Wai is one of my favorite directors. As the sequel to one of my favorite films, In the Mood for Love, 2046 again proves Wong as one of the best contemporary filmmakers. We pick up with Tony Leung Chiu Wai’s character, Mr. Chow, being subtly rejected by a beautiful woman, and already we know that 2046 will not be any more optimistic than its predecessor. If you thought it impossible for Wong Kar Wai to show even more pessimism towards love, you were wrong—2046 rises to the occasion admirably. It is the sad story of a man searching for the love he lost in all the wrong places.
It quickly becomes apparent that Mr. Chow is not the same character he once was; instead of being a moral, upstanding gentleman heartbroken by a love lost, he is a jaded womanizer who seems intent on making himself feel better by dampening the spirits of the beautiful women surrounding him. The clincher is the cold smile he displays as he rejects them—for example, in a devastating scene with Ziyi Zhang, her tears withdraw no compassion whatsoever from our Mr. Chow. Instead of comforting her with any remote words of solace, his cold smile is unfaltering as he turns her own words against her.
Although the women he touches may not do much to affect his own emotions, he nevertheless finds inspiration through them for several sci-fi stories that take place in the year 2046 (which doubles as the room number in which he and Maggie Cheung would write in the previous film). His characters travel to the year 2046 to locate lost memories, a theme which deeply relates to Chow himself. His real motivation in his womanizing is to relocate that feeling that he lost in the original Su Li-zhen (Cheung). As his characters search for feeling and passion again, so does he, without being aware of it himself. It seems he is only drawn to the women he cannot have, a quality also found in the character of Su Li-zhen. There is wonderful juxtaposition between the narrative itself and the stories that Mr. Chow writes—the character’s perception of the events and people surrounding him is just as interesting as the events themselves. It is only through these writings that it becomes apparent that Chow was indeed affected by the presence of these women.
Sadly, Maggie Cheung’s role in this film is nothing more than a short cameo, a nostalgic reminder of the feelings originated in In the Mood for Love. The new women acting alongside Tony Leung are no less superb, though. In addition to Zhang, Li Gong portrays a wonderfully detached character, as well as Carina Lau as yet another woman perfectly adept at hiding her true feelings. As for the brilliant cinematography so innate in Wong’s films, Christopher Doyle definitely did not disappoint. He provides the viewer with some of the best aesthetics of his already praised career. It simply is not a Wong Kar Wai film without Doyle’s touch, and 2046 made another example of such. The colors and compositions, though exceedingly gorgeous, go a step above their aesthetic beauty to support the mood of the film. It is almost as if the production design, compositions, and lighting display the emotions that the characters cannot.
Like its predecessor, I found 2046 to be one of the most heart-wrenching films ever made, for its stellar use of subtlety, and its ability to pull back instead of overwhelming the audience with emotion. If you have any desire to experience a film that takes full advantage of its role as art, then please see this movie. You’d be doing yourself a favor.
Erin Paulson is a film critic and photographer in Chicago.
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