2046
by Howard Schumann

In 2046 by Hong Kong director Wong Kar Wai, a mysterious train brings travelers to the year 2046 where they can recapture lost memories because nothing ever changes. The narrator tells us that "no one has ever come back from 2046, except me." Continuing with the theme of missed connections and ephemeral relationships begun in his earlier films, Wong's latest work is a meditation on the pain of loss and the inability to live in present time. The plot centers on Chow's relationships with women who occupy room 2046 in the hotel where he met Maggie Cheung in In the Mood for Love . He seduces the women, then abandons them, suppressing and denying his emotions or turning them into science fiction or erotic stories about whispering secrets. The film has a dreamlike quality and can be confusing with its non-linear structure but with the gorgeous cinematography, exquisite costumes, soft lighting, songs of Nat King Cole and opera extracts from Bellini's Norma, you may not even notice.

Tony Leung is Chow Wo Man, a playboy who writes stories for the local newspaper. Much of the action takes place in Hong Kong in the 1960s during a period of political unrest. Chow brings Lulu (Carina Lau), a drunken girl, home to sleep in room 2046 but she is not there when he returns in a few days, having been murdered by a jealous boyfriend. He is then forced to rent 2047 next door while 2046 is being cleaned up. The first affair is with Bai Ling (Ziyi Zhang), a dancer and call girl. He hears the sounds of lovemaking with each male client she brings to her room, then invites her to have a drink with him and presents himself as her new lover. Thinking she means more to him than a one-night stand, Bai Ling falls in love with him but is heartbroken when she discovers the truth and moves out.

The next occupant of the room is the hotel owner's daughter, Wang Jen Wing (Faye Wong) who is passionately in love with a Japanese man, Takuya Kimura, over her father's objections. She suggests that Chow write a science fiction novel based on her life and he begins to write a novel called 2046 about a Japanese man who has an affair with an android in a futuristic Hong Kong . Chow also has a brief affair with a gambler in Singapore , Su Li Zhen (Gong Li), known as the Black Spider because she wears a mysterious black glove on her hand. He asks her to go to Hong Kong with him but she rejects his offer using the device of a card trick and both leave with regret.

A feeling of sadness pervades all of these affairs and they have a strange similarity. Songs, stories, and relationships are repeated as if Chow is playing a tape recorder without a stop button. The characters may be in the mood for love but the experience seems to be beyond their grasp and they spend much energy living in their memories. Like other of Wong's characters, Chow is a "blind mourner", incapable of choice, condemned to living in a circular stream of remorse, regret, and stagnation. 2046 can get a little tiresome with its proliferation of damaged characters and over stylization, yet it is a sensual and richly elegant film that makes a powerful statement about the emotional disconnection of modern life.

©2005 Howard Schumann
CineScene