Wong Kar-Wai's 2046 is gorgeous, but perhaps not beautiful—the wages of love can be ugly. In telling his tale of fractured love and idealized memory, Wong irises in and out of a blooming, vaginal void (or is it an eye...or an ear canal?). Within, he plumbs the secrets of reproduction—not so much of the human form as Wong's own history on film.
2046 is, in fact, a sequel to Wong's acclaimed In the Mood for Love, in which Tony Leung Chu Wai's Mr. Chow and Maggie Cheung's Mrs. Chan shared a mutual langorous longing in 1962 Hong Kong. The significant hotel room in that film was 2046, and a brokenhearted Mr. Chow (four years older and ruefully wiser) haunts it in the film of the same name. "You loved her deeply," says one would-be love interest of another. "It's history," says Chow. "Let's change the subject."
Like all of Wong's films, 2046 is haunted by history: of character, of cinema, of China, of Wong himself. Shades of Resnais and Kubrick and Godard drape 2046—Wong is partly concerned with the connections of mind and heart, traversed by an artist travelling "a vast rail network [that] spans the globe." Taking several trips on that futuristic train, Wong brings Chow's science-fiction writings to life, and we see their epic expansion of Chow's (and presumably Wong's) intimate feeling. Wong's movies have always been from another time—here, he travels in two directions to find a unique tension.
Though 2046 has everything of Wong's previous films in it, and more, its excess turns it into a short-film anthology, a gambit that doesn't entirely pay off in the stylist's complicated 129-minute edit. As Chow writes his science-fiction confessional, we trail him through a round-robin of regret and heartbreak. Chow wanders from one distinctive but disposable relationship to another, with Gong Li, Faye Wong, and a devastating Ziyi Zhang, among others.
As always, Wong's lush use of music and collaboration with longtime cinematographer Christopher Doyle results in rapturous cinema of the senses. Wong and Doyle 2046 cram 2046 with images suitable for framing. Though Doyle shoots in anamorphic widescreen (a 2.39:1 aspect ratio), Wong frequently bisects the frame with negative space—walls, curtains, a person's back. Mirrors are a given in their work; 2046 develops a more recent fixation on the "O"—visited and revisited in the neon sign of the Oriental Hotel, as well as the mysterious orb that is beginning and end. Wong and Doyle's shared visual language is formal and langorous, but also textured and lively: think Bernardo Bertolucci and Vittorio Storaro, on absinthe.
Chow's internal monologue piercingly belies his outward two-face (made literal by a half-shaved moustache), his knee-jerk cruel streaks: "I can't stop wondering if she loved me or not....I felt more and more at ease in my fictional world....All memories are traces of tears." For its flaws, 2046's investigation of the mysteries of love proves once again that nobody does swoony romantic longing, and heartache, like Wong Kar-Wai. 2046 appears to be his last word on the subject, freeing Wong to take a different trip.
Sony's spectacular special edition of 2046 unfurls a gorgeous presentation of the film and a wealth of bonus materials. The thorough "Behind the Scenes of 2046" (36:22) brings together self-reflective director and cast interviews with behind-the-scenes footage (describing the elaborate sets, Ziyi Zhang notes, "Every corner is like a painting"). "Crossed Looks" (16:16) features more interesting interview footage with Wong Kar-Wai and Tony Leung (both of whom speak English in this featurette), and Ziyi Zhang.
The docs help the viewer to understand the themes of the film, as does "The Music of 2046," liner notes to the film's music and scene access to each cue. "The Numerology of 2046" includes a helpful timeline, as well as a detailed list of all number references in the film. Here also are two deleted scenes—"Black Spider Visits Chow" (5:04) and "The Android Visits the Writer" (4:11)—and alternate ending "The Writer Visits the Future Bar" (:41).
"2046: Anatomy of Memories" (4:50) explains and displays the amazing evolution of the CGI production design of the city 2046. A seven-minute "Music Montage" set to Bellini's "Casta Diva" from Norma appears to be an early promotional tool for the film, and an "International Exploration Poster Gallery" serves up 58 slides of poster designs for the film. The disc's previews: Thumbsucker, Junebug, Saraband, Heights, Yes, Memory of a Killer, Layer Cake, and Kung Fu Hustle.
The only flaw in this otherwise stunning disc is that widescreen TV owners will find that the subtitles run off their screen in widescreen viewing mode. Nevertheless, film lovers will want to own this Wong Kar-Wai masterwork.
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