“Are you still in the mood for love?”
Director: Kar Wai Wong
Cast: Tony Chiu Wai Leung, Ziyi Zhang, Faye Wong
Synopsis: The women who enter a science fiction author’s life, over the course of a few years, after the author loses the woman he considers his one true love.
2046, Wong Kar Wai’s follow up to the sublime In the Mood For Love is another mood piece following the life of Chow Mo Wan (Tony Leung), one of the lovers in the original film, as he struggles with his yearning for the past and his dissatisfaction with the present. While it can be described as no more than a quasi-sequel to In the Mood For Love, 2046 shares the same poignantly melancholic tone, sumptuous imagery and deliberate pacing. Although it can be viewed as a self-contained film, watching it after having first seen ITMFL provides the viewer with insights that might otherwise be overlooked and a pleasing contemplation of the often oblique manner in which Wong intertwines his tales. Where 2046 differs from the original film, however, is in the complexity of both its plot and the character of Chow.
In this film, Chow is often a difficult person to like. He initially appears emotionally damaged by his love for Su Li Zhen and comes across as something of a sleaze at times. It is only in the final stages of the film that Wong reveals that it is not the love affair that has irrevocably altered Wong’s soul but his realisation, after an affair with a professional gambler (Li Gong) who shares Su Li Zhen’s name, that he will never recover from or recapture the intensity of the love he felt for the original Su Li Zhen. It is this realisation that leads him to treat women as nothing more than sexual receptacles and allows him to show such blithe unconcern in the face of the genuine love of his prostitute neighbour, Bai Ling (Zhang Ziyi) with whom he shares a one-sided affair. This emotional distance also gives him the ability to play cupid to the daughter of the owner of the hotel in which he lives after developing a close relationship with her — and also, it has to be said, allows Wong to toy with our expectations and perceptions of what is happening.
The sci-fi story within a story is Wong’s way of intertwining Chow’s story in this film and both the affair between the hotel owner’s daughter and her lover and the love affair Chow shared with the original Su Li Zhen some years before. It is a deceptively simple tale that performs a complex task flawlessly as it ties the strands of each ‘true-life’ story seamlessly together.
As usual, Wong Kar Wai provides some truly beautiful imagery, finding beauty in the most mundane objects and using the screen the way an artist uses his canvas. Every shot is meticulously composed and sometimes tells us as much in its composition as the dialogue between the characters. As with In the Mood For Love, he often positions his characters at the furthest edge of the screen, almost as if they are pinned there by the objects around them, whether they are other people, the neon sign of the hotel, or doors behind which the characters view their neighbours (there is a strong element of voyeurism in this film at times).
Perhaps the main drawback is that the deliberate pacing of the plot can’t quite sustain a film of this length, and it drags badly for about fifteen minutes before building up to a wrenching climax. Tony Leung delivers yet another superb performance, never really seeking the viewer’s sympathy but able, thanks to Wong’s poetic script, to win it anyway. The devastatingly beautiful Zhang Ziyi tears at the audience’s heart as the lovelorn prostitute, and stands out amongst the female members of the cast, all of whom are shamelessly glamorised and romanticised by Wong. And there’s nothing shallow about that, it’s the desire for love and the unintended emotional corruption wrought on that desire by its pursuit or presence that forms the core of Wong’s story. As Chow says, love is all a matter of timing, it’s no good meeting the right person too soon or too late…