2046 can pretty easily be thought of as the sequel to Wong Kar-Wai’s previous film, In the Mood for Love. It’s more sprawling, the character of Chow played by Tony Leung acts differently, but otherwise it pretty clearly continues the themes and continuity from the first story. While 2046‘s story has more characters and more locations, it seems just about as sad and regretful as Wong’s earlier film.
2046 refers to a sci-fi story that Chow is writing, and in this story 2046 is a place “where nothing ever changes” and people go there to be trapped by their memories. The inspiration for 2046 is clearly taken from a hotel room right next to Chow’s, a room where he originally met Mrs. Chan in the previous film and where now many of his lovers live. They include the murdered Lulu (Carina Lau) and the prostitute Bai Ling (Ziyi Zhang). Also present in the hotel is Jing-wen (Faye Wong), the daughter of the hotel’s owner who’s fallen in love with a Japanese businessman, much to her father’s dismay. Chow befriends Jing-wen, they become writing partners, and he eventually helps her find a job, but fails to make her fall in love with him in return. In Singapore, Chow meets a professional gambler named Su Li-zhen (Li Gong) who helps him win his money back so he can return to Hong Kong. Though this is not Maggie Chung’s character from In the Mood for Love, they have the same name and this Su Li-zhen continues to haunt Chow for the rest of the movie.
The film switches between all of these stories with a relative ease, though I do think the film goes on a bit too long in the end. In addition to seeing all of these stories play out in the real Hong Kong (and Singapore), we also see them represented in the imagination of Chow while he is writing his book. He imagines himself as Jing-wen’s Japanese boyfriend, and many of the women in the story as futuristic androids that he can’t quite connect with.
The whole movie, like the other two films of Wong’s I’ve seen, seems to center around missed connections. As the third film I’ve seen of his, I do think it’s done a lot to clarify my own understanding of the themes he is generally concerned with. Like Chungking Express, there’s anxiety over Hong Kong’s relationship to China and the deadlines that come with it. It’s not something I can really pick up on just watching the movie, but 2046, in addition to its significance in the first film, is the last year of Hong Kong’s status as a somewhat independent country while still belonging to China. In Chungking Express, there’s anxiety of deadlines which is said to refer to the passing of control of Hong Kong from Britain to China, and in 2046, there’s the depiction of the end of this sort of in-between state that Hong Kong finds itself in (at least this is my limited understanding of it from scanning wikipedia, I’m not going to claim I totally understand the intricacies of what’s going on here).
This in-between state is also where Chow seems to find himself. In the book he’s writing, the character based on himself is simply riding a train and talking to a bunch of androids, there’s not a lot of dynamic action happening. To me, it just sort of seems like Chow is waffling in the wake of losing the true love of his life in the last movie. No matter what he tries to do or the feelings that “creep up on [him],” he has an inability to make decisions or really stand for anything, or move his life forward in any meaningful way. Sometimes he comes across as callous and sometimes his actions seem caring, but mostly he seems trapped in a strange netherworld of lost dreams and missed opportunities.
It might be exhausting to keep comparing 2046 to In the Mood for Love, but that’s really how I watched this movie. In the Mood for Love seems a lot more anchored to one place and relationship, and just generally more disciplined overall. Not that 2046 doesn’t cohere together at all, it does, but it also sort of sprawls all over the place and takes detours into different parts of the story more than others. 2046 in some ways kind of sets itself up for failure in trying to follow In the Mood for Love, but I still think it has plenty to offer and is definitely worth watching. Its style might not be a focused or dramatic, and it might rely on the surface story a bit more, but it still offers some interesting insights and an involving viewing experience.
“Love is all a matter of timing.”
Long story short: 3/4 stars
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