Joined: 16 Dec 2004
|Posted: Mon Oct 17, 2005 4:45 pm Post subject: 2046 Review from The Globe & Mail
A too-tangled web
By RICK GROEN
Friday, August 12, 2005 Page
Directed and written by Wong Kar-Wai
Starring Tony Leung, Ziyi Zhang, Faye Wong
Only a master director could make such a beautifully flawed film. 2046 sees a cinematic giant at the height of his powers and yet, ever so slightly, spinning his wheels. The result is the rare kind of picture where the cracks in the brilliance merely confirm the shine.
The titan in question is Wong Kar-Wai who, judging from reports, has been tinkering with this movie since its appearance at the Cannes festival two years ago. Is this just a case of the perfectionist never being satisfied, or does it speak to a specific problem that wouldn't go away? More the latter, I fear. Wong's entire canon is a prolonged meditation on the recurring themes of memory and loss, especially love's labours lost. But here, in an elegiac study that spins four linked narratives through separate time frames, the fulcrum looks misplaced and the balance feels marginally out of whack. That's because one of the stories is so compelling, so poignantly exquisite, that it dominates the others, which, by comparison, can seem redundant or confusing or both.
Yet all of them, drenched in the atmospheric imagery of cinematographer Christopher Doyle and peopled by a who's who of Asia's leading women, are gorgeous to behold. So is the leading man. Tony Leung reprises his role from In the Mood for Love, where, you might recall, he partnered Maggie Cheung in a profoundly cool dance around the hot fires of adultery. Now it's several years later in the mid-sixties and his character, Mr. Chow, hasn't weathered them well. The once-noble journalist has devolved into a wily roué and a shameless hack, bedding his many babes and discharging his purple prose with the same smiling insouciance.
His lair is a sparse room in a rather seedy Hong Kong hotel. The room's number is 2046, which doubles as the title of a sci-fi novel that Chow is writing, and triples as the scheduled date for Hong Kong's integration into China (a lost state, a state of loss). Intermittently, Wong dramatizes the novel, which owes a small debt to Blade Runner but has the larger purpose of echoing the movie's central mantra: "All memories are traces of tears."
Early on, however, the different stories' multiple strands get a bit tangled and hard to unravel. We're jumped ahead to that imagined future, we're pushed back to Chow's murky past, we're here and there and where-the-hell-are-we? But then the film settles into its major chord, struck over successive Christmas Eves from 1966 to 1969, and charting the course of two amorous affairs -- the first linking the hotel owner's daughter (Faye Wong) to her Japanese suitor; the second between Chow and Bai Ling, a working girl who rents herself out in the room across the hall.
It's this love-for-sale plot that rivets our attention, and the riveter isn't hard to locate -- Ziyi Zhang (celebrated in the West both for Hero and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) dazzles as the hooker with the gold-plated heart. Wang lavishes his camera on her, closing in on the veil of her eyelashes, roaming down the sensual curve of her back, finding in the swirls of her dress the emerging tangle of her feelings. Tangled, because Chow has adroitly insinuated himself into her affection, so deeply that Bai Ling wants to suspend all business, to give to him freely what she once sold. His refusal, his continued insistence on welding love to commerce, elicits from Zhang one of the more astounding moments in acting ever to grace the screen: Simultaneously, she sheds a single tear while flashing an ironic smile, both the "emotion" and the "recollected tranquility" captured in a single instant. Breathtaking.
Wong obsessively films their encounters in claustrophobic settings, framed by doors that open onto hallways lined with smoky mirrors. That imagery perfectly reflects the tenuous and ambivalent nature of this relationship, of (in Wong's universe) all relationships -- the lover as half-willing prisoner, tempted to enter, yet looking to exit, and always seeing the sad reflection of yesterday's failures in today's hopes. En route, Leung turns his hack writer into a sort of pale artist-figure, semi-detached from his surroundings, blending raw passion with crude commerce, a manipulator who's both the architect and the victim of his own scenarios. Yes, even the author can't escape the fate of his characters.
All this is as evocative as the score, a series of repeated motifs ranging from Nat King Cole to bel canto opera. And, ultimately, those other narrative threads (which include very fleeting appearances from Gong Li and Maggie Cheung) do grow in coherence and start to reinforce the theme. But we never quite lose the sense that they compete with rather than complement the one story that has us in its thrall.
Consequently, what Chow says of romance -- "Love is all a matter of timing; it's no good meeting the right person too early or too late" -- has its own frustrating echo in the film itself. Amid the sumptuous labyrinth of 2046, in the captivating performance of Ziyi Zhang, we definitely meet the right person at the right time -- but in a relative crowd and far too seldom.
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