Anyone who’s ever seen a Wong Kar-wai film knows three things to be true: That chronology is more of a suggestion than a requirement, that the story is going to be beautifully complicated, and that the cinematography will be nothing short of breathtaking. Though 2046 is a loose sequel of Kar-wai’s previous films Days of Being Wild and In The Mood for Love, and those films are spectacular on their own merit, they do not need to be watched in order for 2046 to be understood and thoroughly enjoyed.
2046 is essentially the Russian doll of stories, with each layer being cracked open only to reveal substantially more inside. Chow Mo-wan (Tony Leung Chiu-wai), our protagonist, is a journalist and writer still recovering from his unconsummated romance with Su Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung), a woman whom he loved intensely but, because of social constraints and horrible timing, simply couldn’t have. In grieving this love which, because it was unconsummated was therefore embedded in his mind as “perfect”, Chow isn’t ready to feel that way ever again, but he does.
In Singapore, he falls in love with another Su Li-zhen (Gong Li), a professional gambler with a mysterious past. When met with rejection from her, Chow manages his feelings by sleeping with as many women as possible and remaining detached all the while. Back in Hong Kong, in the process of trying to move on, Chow rents room 2047 in an apartment building and, because of the dividing hallway between this room and room 2046, he is able to observe and occasionally interact with that room’s many occupants. First there’s Wang Jing-wen (Faye Wong), the landlord’s eldest daughter who is in a forbidden romance with a Japanese man, then his youngest daughter Wang Jie-wen (Dong Jie), an aggressive flirt whom Chow repeatedly rejects. After these occupants, there’s Bai Ling (Zhang Ziyi), a high-class escort who starts off as a platonic friend but soon becomes a torrid affair for Chow.
Dealing with these many loves, crushes, rejections and regrets (not all of them his own), and being strapped for cash, Chow soon starts working on a science fiction romance novel called 2046, about a place (or plane of existence; this is never clarified) where lonely people go to retrieve lost memories. As we learn about Chow’s past in flashbacks and view fictionalized glimpses of his desires within his novel, the audience becomes consumed with not just him, but with all of the characters in the film, unable to stop imagining how different things could be if fill-in-the-blank had or hadn’t happened. Like it’s predecessors, 2046 rests on a foundation of missed connections, rampant desire, and a feeling of being stuck.
Intoxicating, sweeping, and riveting, 2046 is a cinematic masterpiece which only reveals itself to be more lush and evocative with each viewing. I give this one 5 stars.