“In the year 2046, every railway network spreads the globe. A mysterious train leaves for 2046 every once in a while. Every passenger who goes to 2046 has the same intention. They want to recapture lost memories. Because nothing ever changes in 2046. Nobody really knows if that’s true because nobody’s ever come back. Except me.”
Thus opens “2046”, Wong Kar-Wai’s latest cinematic experiment and the sci-fi novel of the same name being written by Chow (Tony Leung), the movie’s protagonist. He works for a newspaper, but he also does writing of his own on the side… That is, when he’s not too busy bedding every woman he can find. “Lots of one-night-stands. Never mind, nothing lasts forever anyway.”
But there are times, women, loves that linger on in the mind. A cabaret singer named Lulu (Carina Lau), whom Chow knew for a little while (the last 5 minutes of “Days of Being Wild”, basically). But most of all, one Su-Lizhen (Maggie Cheung) with whom Chow shared a passionate if not quite consummated affair around a hotel room (see also: “In the Mood for Love”). Room 2046. The same room number in which Lulu is staying when Chow runs into her again, years later. He ends up moving in it… Or in room 2047, in fact, but he’ll keep an eye on the room next door while he writes his “erotic and bizarre” sci-fi story.
“All memories are traces of tears.”
Did the plot summary above make any sense? I didn’t think so, but that reflects the experience of watching “2046”. Most Wong Kar-Wai pictures, in fact, share this ethereal feel. You follow certain characters and what happens to them, sure, but that’s not really the point. This is more like an exercise in style, a series of breathtaking moments of cinema, snapshots of Romance! Melancholy! Beauty! Wong and cinematographer extraordinaire Christopher Doyle are creating live paintings, with exquisite use of light, colour, framing, etc. The music’s great, too (notably opera numbers, Nat King Cole’s rendition of The Christmas Song and a moody Shigeru Umebayashi score).
At the same time, this can be a very “writerly” film, with lots of narration and too many ideas for a single narrative. Like, you see B&W footage of social unrest in 1966 Hong Kong, but it doesn’t lead to anything. Maybe to show that Chow remains disaffected no matter what’s going on around him. Which is kinda disconcerting… I mean, look at the women just dying to get a piece of him: Faye Wong! Gong Li! Zhang Zhiyi, for God’s sake!
“Love is all a matter of timing. It’s no good meeting the right person too soon or too late.”
“2046” is a difficult film to review. It’s brilliant yet all over the place, full of crazy ellipses and extended stretches, with android babes and gambling houses and Christmas Eve dates, scenes that are hard to connect with and others that effortlessly move you… Wong Kar-Wai has never made an uninteresting movie. Some are exhilarating, some less so. “2046” falls somewhere in the middle. It’s not his best work, but you can still feel a genius at work.