Chow Mo Wan: Tony Leung
Su Li Zhen: Gong Li
Tak: Takuya Kimura
Jing Wen Wang: Faye Wong
Bai Ling: Ziyi Zhang
Lulu/Mimi: Carina Lau
slz1960: Maggie Cheung
cc1966: Chang Chen
Mr. Wang/Train Captain: Wang Sum
Sony Pictures Classics presents a film written, produced and directed by Wong Kar Wai. In Cantonese, Japanese and Mandarin, with English subtitles. Running time: 129 min. Rated R (for sexual content).
Pacing. Story pacing is an overlooked art in the filmmaking process. Pacing can be affected by a number of elements in a film; dialogue, score, editing, even dramatic liberties affect the pace of a film. Films of different genres have different pacing expectations. An action film is expected to have a breakneck pace so the audience cannot catch it breath. A romance is expected to be much slower, often lingering on moments that can also take an audience’s breath away. Chinese director Wong Kar Wai’s latest romance 2046 has many lingering moments. Perhaps too many. Perhaps lingering far too long.
2046 is a loose sequel to Kar Wai’s critically acclaimed 2000 feature In the Mood for Love, about a writer and a secretary in neighboring Hong Kong apartments who suspect their spouses of having an affair. 2046 follows the further sexual exploits of the writer, Chow (Tony Leung, Infernal Affairs), who has developed an obsession with the number 2046. He writes of a futuristic world called 2046 in the year 2046, although his story takes place between Christmases of 1966 through 1969.
His Don Juan lifestyle leads him across an apartment with the number 2046. After renting apartment 2047 Chow embarks on a series of relationships with the women who occupy 2046. One involves the superintendent’s daughter, Jing Wen Wang (Faye Wong, Chunking Express), who yearns for a Japanese man, a relationship her father forbids. Another is with an elusive beauty, Bai Ling (Ziyi Zhang, House of Flying Daggers), who becomes dependent on Chow for an emotional relationship he is not willing to give. The third involves a woman in Singapore named Su Li Zhen (Gong Li, Memoirs of a Geisha), who shares the same name as the woman neighbor from the previous film.
The most significant of these relationships is shared with Bai Ling. She starts out hard to get, but as soon as Chow finally does win her (to her bed at least), he offers her money. Not in blatant prostitution payment, but the implication of his action is a way to sever the possibility of an emotional attachment. But it is too late for Bai Ling; she descends into a pathetic outcry for affection. Chow is hardened stone. It is a surprising turn for Zhang, who has built a reputation (for American audiences at least) of playing very strong women. Even once both have moved on to other romances, there is pain in every glance of Bai Ling’s eyes.
The film is infatuated with its own sense of romance. That romance is built upon some fairly simple plots of lust and desire and the fascinating imagery and lighting that occupies almost every shot provided by cinematographers Christopher Doyle (The Quiet American), Kwan Pun Leung (Still Love You After All These Years), and Lai Yiu Fai (The White Countess). Even the futuristic scenes taken from the book Chow writes drip with an erotic atmosphere that suggest what might happen if Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey melded with David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr.
But, as the stories within the very film exemplify so well, infatuation is a mistress that will always leave you with a bitter taste on your lips. The movie falters under the weight of Kar Wai’s obsession of these images through his lingering direction and some ill-advised editing. Kar Wai lingers far too long on shots of people smoking, and uses an over-abundance of slow motion, including cranking the speed of some shots down in post-production rather than in the camera itself, which creates the effect of a jumping image. That jittering image does not fit the ambience of the film, plus it destroys any suspension of disbelief by sending up a flag saying, “You are watching a manipulated image!”
For all its beauty, it is hard not to sit through 2046 without glancing at your watch, or wondering just why this shot or that shot is in slow motion. Kar Wai does a wonderful job creating an erotic atmosphere for a unique vision of tortured romance; but as compelling it is to view at first, by the final moments that compulsion has diminished as much as the speed of the frames per second while these people burned by love slowly suck the life out of their cigarettes and their audience.