Review by © Jane Freebury
The year 2046 is the last of the ‘50 years without change’ that China promised Hong Kong from 1997. It’s also the number of the room Mr Chow wants to move into when he arrives at the Oriental Hotel from Singapore, and it’s the name of a sci-fi novel he starts writing with the hotel owner’s daughter Jing Wen.
Director Wong Kar Wai has said the idea for this film came from China’s undertaking, but in the spectacular metropolis created in the opening sequences, the year becomes an imagined destination for time travel, a future moment where memory stays the same. This hasn’t been confirmed, however, because no one has ever returned from 2046. And the movie takes place in 1960s Hong Kong, to confuse things.
Events take place in the 1960s and intertitles are thrown in to assist, but clear exposition and sequential development matter little to this director. With his filmmaking partner, cinematographer Christopher Doyle, Wong Kar Wai has built a well-earned reputation for beautiful, moody films in the vanguard of visual experimentation. 2046 gestures towards the future throughout, but it soon turns its attention to what it really wants to talk about—romantic love. Anticipation of love or loss of love are the themes that Wong Kar Wai keeps returning to every time he makes a film.
If you saw Wong Kar Wai’s exquisite In the Mood for Love, which segues into 2046, you will know that when last seen Chow was getting over a failed love affair. The Oriental Hotel where Chow (Tony Leung) now lives and works is low-rent, with peeling paint, bare globes and thin walls, and houses a collection of characters just like him, romantic questers. Holed up writing pulp fiction and newspaper articles by day, Chow plays the field with beautiful women at night. Gong Li, Zhang Yiyi, and Maggie Cheung have parts.
Again and again this playful, eccentric and ravishing movie, is deliciously inventive. The fetish with shoes, whatever that meant, the shots through floors and windows, the scenes with the beautiful android lover ‘with delayed reaction’. It’s just beautiful, infused with yearning and even has an occasional hint of droll humour.
The director of Ashes of Time, Fallen Angels, and Chungking Express has done it again.