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PostPosted: Mon Sep 27, 2004 10:03 am    Post subject: 2046: A Film Odyssey - Time

October 4, 2004 / Vol. 164, No. 14

2046: A Film Odyssey
For four years, Wong Kar-wai fought to bring his vision to life. What's the result? A romantic masterpiece

KING OF HEARTS: Wong Kar-wai is a master of melancholy romance

Chow (Tony Leung Chiu-wai) is a ladies' man. He knows how to attract them and keep them at a distance. Having been burned in an earlier affair, he is loath to reveal to them the ache of lost love at his core. Yet he needs a woman; he seems happy only when he can nod off, in a taxi, on a kind lady's shoulder. He sounds like a weary cynic, but underneath he is like every Wong Kar-wai character: a melancholy romantic. And he has the bruises to prove it.

Chow is the hero of 2046, Wong's first feature since In the Mood for Love four years ago. Like that film and most of the others that have made him the most respected and imitated writer-director in Hong Kong, perhaps in all Asia, it is a stethoscope monitoring the troubled hearts of people who have the attitude but not always the aptitude for love. At $15 million and more than two hours in length (20 minutes longer than any of his earlier pictures), 2046 is the grandest project of a man who, in an age of coarse and facetious movies, has the mission to reestablish the romantic tone of the grandest old films—where two beautiful people would gaze into each other's eyes and go about breaking each other's hearts.

That makes Wong, 46, the cinema's reigning romantic. But in his dark shades and friendly hipness, he is too cool to plead totally guilty to that charge. "Romanticism means you follow your heart more than your mind," he said last week as he alighted in Hong Kong during a hectic promotion tour that took him to Shanghai, Chengdu, Guangzhou and Beijing. "If that's the case, my films are 75% romantic; the other 25% is the realities, the problem solving and luck." As for himself, he laughs and says he's "60% romantic." Which sounds like the other 40% is talking.

The release of 2046 was delayed by realities, problem solving and luck, most of it bad. The SARS epidemic disrupted filming last year. The futuristic computer imagery, which opens the film in dazzling fashion, took more time than expected. Mostly, though, Wong is a notorious perfectionist in an industry that believes fast is good. (Johnnie To, Hong Kong's top auteur of commercial films, has directed 13 features in the four years since In the Mood came out.) Wong promised that 2046 would open at the Cannes Film Festival this May, yet he kept shooting until days before the premiere. The film missed a scheduled screening and had to be shown later that night. For his trouble, Wong and 2046 went home without a prize.

Wong's work habits may exasperate those around him. But a question remains: is the movie good? And the answer is no. It's wonderful—a rich, glamorous and acutely human work with superb performances by Leung and the four gorgeous actresses.

It's clever, too. "The idea for the film," says Wong, "comes from the promise the Chinese government gave to the Hong Kong people: 50 years of no change" in its political and economic systems after the 1997 handover by Great Britain. "So 2046 is the last year of that promise. And I think, is there anything that is so unchanged in people's lives? When we fall in love we wonder: Will they change? Will I change? How can we make this moment last forever? So we start with that."

When last seen, at the end of in the Mood for Love, Chow was mourning a failed affair with Su Lizhen (Maggie Cheung) and making a pilgrimage to the ruins of Angkor Wat. He was told that to bury a sad secret, one should find an ancient hole, whisper the secret into it, then cover it up. That was 1967. It's a few years later, and Chow has taken residence in room 2046 of the Oriental Hotel, where several bewitching women cross his path. One is Lulu (Carina Lau), who traps herself in a series of volcanic affairs. "She didn't mind sad endings," Chow notes in the film's narration. "The male lead could change, as long as she was the leading lady." Chow's cast of sexual co-stars changes almost nightly. His hotel-room bedsprings squeal like a medieval torture device in the unwilling ears of his next-door neighbor.

The neighbor is Bai Ling (Zhang Ziyi), a dance-hall hostess and prostitute. Her arguments with Chow over his lady guests veer into flirtation, and soon she too is making his bedsprings squeak. Bai Ling makes one rash transaction: she gives her heart to Chow, who wants her only as a playmate. The one sedate lady in the hotel is its owner's older daughter Jingwen (Faye Wong), pining over a broken affair with a Japanese man (Takuya Kimura). She encourages Chow, a journalist who writes erotic books on the side, to switch to science fiction. Soon she is helping him write a novel called 2046, in which Chow creates an android version of Jingwen. The novel is set in a futureworld where people go to recapture lost memories. Chow can't escape his memories: of Su Lizhen and another woman with the same name, a casino gambler (Gong Li) who once did him the favor of allowing him to fall in love with her.

Confused? The plot is complex in print but pellucid on the screen. With the dexterity of a cardsharp, Wong shuffles the present, the recent past and the distant future, mixing reality, memory and fantasy. The main action of the movie takes place on consecutive Christmas Eves in the late '60s, but each scene has reverberations of others from Chow's past and from the novel. What anchors each of the stories for the viewer are the faces of the actresses. No explanations are needed when Zhang is lasering a stare as bold as a shout or Lau is sobbing herself to sleep or Gong Li is flashing an imperious gaze. Or when Faye Wong, in our last glimpse of her, is captured in a slow-motion, slowly encroaching close-up that fades just as she is about to smile. It is an image—a kiss from the camera—of desirability that can be fully appreciated only when it slips away.

"Love is a matter of timing," Chow observes. "It's no good meeting the right person too soon or too late." Chow intersected with all these women too soon or too late. Wong Kar-wai got all of them at the apogee of their craft and allure. That's part of his filmmaking process: to sculpt the role to the performer. "If you want to make a film with an actor or actress, there must be something that attracts you. I'm trying to exploit that quality, which they might not even be aware of. So I normally don't ask actresses to play other people. It's just: 'Be you.'"

Before actors join a Wong Kar-wai film, the director says, "They don't know the whole story, but they know their story. Zhang Ziyi, because she knows she's going to play a ballroom dancer in the '60s, has to be given a lot of homework. I have to give her all of these films from the period, so she can understand the gestures, the actions. And also I give her all the costumes, because she has to get those manners down. Gong Li's character is a gambler, so Li headed down to Macau incognito to watch gamblers at work. She's very serious. She needs to have a lot of preparation. Faye Wong, she doesn't need to do that because we've worked [together] before, and she always tries to make herself very relaxed."

It makes one wonder how he will direct Nicole Kidman on a film project that may materialize next year. Wong is teasingly oracular on the plot and setting: "The only thing I want to say is I always conceive of Nicole Kidman as the woman in a Hitchcock film. I think the woman in Hitchcock is always very dangerous, or in danger. And Nicole is both."

Directing one of the world's most famous and adventurous actresses might be intimidating for someone who, as he notes, "didn't go to film school. I don't have any technical training. The way I make films is the only way I know." But he knows his mad method works, in large measure because of two men who have been his closest collaborators on most of his films. William Chang, the editor, production designer and costume designer, is both the architect and the first critic of Wong's vision. Cinematographer Christopher Doyle matches the director's artistry and energy with a luscious camera style that sees beyond surfaces into essences. He takes ravishing pictures of troubled souls.

Wong, of course, is their inspirer. And to begin a project, all the inspiration he requires is one strong, suggestive image. "You need to have the image," he says. "Sometimes you can start with the look of an actress or a certain space. In Eros, I started with the image of a single hand."

In an age when many serious directors, especially in Europe, are making films with graphic sex, Wong remains a gentleman in matters of the groin. 2046 does have one vigorous bedroom encounter, with the nude Leung and Zhang Ziyi attractively entangled. But the erotic knockout punch is a kiss—sudden, brutal, passionate and 35 seconds long—between Leung and Gong Li. They go at each other like two drowning strangers giving each other CPR. Now that's sexy.

"To describe a so-called love scene, or intercourse, is very boring," Wong says, reluctant even to use the word sex. "There must be a point to your focus. In Eros, it's about the hand, not the actual act."

The Hand, his contribution to the three-part Eros (the other parts are by Michelangelo Antonioni and Steven Soderbergh), has no nudity; all sex is suggestive. But the film is called Eros, not Sex; and his episode is throbbingly erotic, as well as a fable about love, lust, loyalty and the ravages of ego in a beautiful young woman who will not always be young or beautiful.

In 1963, a tailor's apprentice named Zhang (Chang Chen) is called to the apartment of a notorious courtesan, Miss Hua (Gong Li, again). As he waits for his audience the sounds of lovemaking trouble and arouse him. Miss Hua, when she greets him, notices his excitement, orders him to remove his trousers and caresses him with her expert hand. It could be said that Hua is merely extending Zhang a professional courtesy. But she is also humiliating the young man—and, she must know, earning a new devotee with a sexual gesture that means little to her, everything to him.

Over the years, Hua's web of erotic and financial alliances unravels. Wealthy lovers tire of her imperiousness; the gigolo she supported (and whose exertions Zhang overheard that first day) has found younger flesh to exploit. She can't pay the tailor bills, yet Zhang remains her faithful couturier and courtier, flattering Hua on her waist size, whispering compliments to a woman in need of them and, finally, secretly, paying for the dingy hotel room she's forced to move into. Gratitude, or desperation, leads her to ask, "Do you have a wife yet?" "No." "How about me?" It is an eloquent three words with at least three meanings: an expression of noblesse oblige, an admission of defeat and an acknowledgment of how much this tradesman has meant to her.

Their last meeting reprises, as in a symphony, the motifs of the first movement but with a new gravity and tenderness. A touch of the hand, a kiss on the face, a few tears and their time is over. In this cinematic short story—as delicate as Guy de Maupassant's, as terse and acute as Raymond Carver's—Wong touches on his old themes of romance and remorse. Chang Chen, looking like a younger Tony Leung in mustache and '60s clothing, gives a mature performance; but Gong Li is the eye magnet. As Hua the regal manipulator, she ages and diminishes, allowing the viewer to escort her on her appointment with tragedy. Give the lady a big hand.

Wong is not perpetually stuck in the 1960s, though his past three films reside there. He had planned to set The Hand in 1930s Shanghai, and shoot it in that city, but the SARS outbreak restricted travel around Asia, forcing him to film in Hong Kong. As fears of an epidemic intensified, the entire production was disrupted, with some Taiwan crew members having difficulty getting to Hong Kong. "Their wives just went crazy," Wong says. "They couldn't accept their husbands working on such a dangerous film, in such a dangerous city. But the men still came."

In the end, nothing could prevent Wong finishing 2046.

A four-year shoot might seem torture to some directors. Not this one. "For me," he says, "to make films is like a circus. We should just go from one town to another, always on the road, stopping when we think we should stop. To me, if there's no Cannes, you can make 2046 for another year." Is it a circus or a love affair, whose ending he both dreads and prays for? As Chow says in the movie, "You can't leave 2046. You can only hope it leaves you." Filmmaking for Wong Kar-wai is like an addiction, benign but incurable.

"It's very hard," he acknowledges. "At the end you just want to get away from it. A few weeks ago, we finished the final mix. And I realized that you have to say goodbye to this project, and you feel very, very ..." His voice trails off. "I know it's not easy. I know it's not a normal practice to make a film for four years. And I'm not sure we'll be able or willing to do that again in the future. This is a very special film. It is the hardest to let go. But you have to let go. And that's it."

Which is stronger: his love for the challenge and camaraderie of making a film or the heartache he feels when it's over? Maybe the two emotions are equally potent, since Wong makes movies that blend those two subjects: the coming together, the drifting apart. The maker of a film as splendid as 2046 should be eager to let it go, to share his treasure with the world. Instead there's an emptiness worse than postcoital or postpartum depression. That's the secret, whispered into a hole, by a man who is 60% romantic, 40% showman and 100% movie artist. He's like Chow in 2046, watching the most amazing woman walk out of his life.

In 2046 Jingwen reads a story Chow has written about her and finds the ending too sad. Could he please change it? We are happy to do that for Wong Kar-wai. He should realize that his unhappy ending is, for others, a beguiling beginning. His vanished beloved can now find a new suitor—millions of moviegoers, who will embrace the beautiful creature, who are ready to be put in the mood for love.

Reported by Bryan Walsh/Hong Kong,13673,501041004-702196,00.html
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andy's angel

PostPosted: Mon Sep 27, 2004 11:15 am    Post subject: 2046--a film odyssey--time


Now, what a 'confusing' write up !

After all that--it says...'IS THE PICTURE GOOD? THE ANSWER IS NO!!! & writer goes on & on fr there..
I've noticed TIME is a big fan of WKW going by their previous reviews--why, this comment is very interesting to say the least
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