From the very beginning, Wong Kar Wai was a director with a clear agenda. Pre-sold as a wunderkind, he had the freedom to develop a personal style of cinema. His debut, As Tears Go By, was successful. His second film, Days of Being Wild, didn't meet with commercial approval, so he tried his hand at a flashy swordplay film, Ashes of Time. The production of Ashes of Time proved to be so indulgent, he shot an entire other movie while trying to finish it. That film was Chungking Express and it seemed to be the ultimate Wong Kar Wai movie, a blend of lovesick romance, poetic visuals, and jazzy storytelling. Personally, I thought he had reached his peak; little did I know he would top himself with the elegant romance of In Mood for Love a few years later.
2046 is a sequel, of sorts, to In the Mood for Love. Not a sequel in the strictest sense since it can stand on its own, but it is a continuation of the further affairs (literally) of lothario writer Chow Mo Wan (Tony Leung). In the 1960's HK, journalist/dime store novelist Chow has taken up residence in another apartment building. He engages in various relationships, mostly romantic, with varying beautiful women- Zhang Ziyi's call girl, Carina Lau as a former flame, Faye Wong as the hotel owners daughter, and Gong Li's mysterious gambler. But, despite his surface coolness he still pines for the woman (Maggie Cheung's character from In the Mood for Love), who might just be his soulmate. He begins writing a sci fi tale called "2047." The story is about a future where one can travel back in time via train and one young mans android affairs while en route to his past. His writing reflects his inner struggle, that of trying to connect with someone, but eventually finding all of his relationships become a lost cause, a never ending circle, because although he is in the present, his heart is in the past.
Despite the period setting, Wong Kar Wai's films are not so much evocative of a time and place but of a mood. The settings, wether it be the future or the past, is not as important as the overall feeling of rootlessness and longing. His film making process is one of riffing. He starts off with a sketch of the theme, characters, and setting, and begins to shoot. And shoot. And shoot. And shoot some more. His films are a long process of editing, re-shooting, and shaping the story until it congeals and the pieces fit like some poetic puzzle board. 2046, took around three to four years to make, including, apparently, reshoots/further editing after its last minute Cannes premiere. When Wong Kar Wai's method works, it is like listening to a symphony in a grand concert hall. When it doesn't, its like listening to a symphony on a static drenched radio.
2046 ends up living in its predecessors shadow. The bottom line boils down to this- In the Mood for Love was about two characters who were dealing with their passion for one another and the insurmountable obstacles of culture and commitment that kept them apart. 2046 is essentially about the loss of love, of mourning for a relationship that cannot be. Emotionally, there is just more ground to cover and interesting ways to show two people falling in love, rather than one guy pining for lost love and never resolving it. For instance, In the Mood for Love spoke volumes without a single word spoken between the two leads. 2046, on the other hand, relies on Chow's internal monologues to tell us what he is thinking, so, at its very roots, that magnetism isn't present.
But, it is a lovely looking piece of work. Largely thanks to another collaboration with ace cinematographer Christopher Doyle, the framing, sumptuous sets, and color schemes speak more than any of the dialogue could. The visual scheme, like it did with ,I>In the Mood for Love, has many lingering close-ups and shots filled/obscured with negative space. On visuals alone it is worth watching. The women, though most were underutilized, are gorgeous. He has some major league actresses, though only Zahng Ziyi and Faye Wong really have anything to work with, whereas the normally terrific Gong Li is unfortunately given a very underdeveloped role. (Of course, who knows? With Wong Kar Wai, you could also figure there are two movies worth of scenes for her character on the cutting room floor.) Still, Tony Leung is a great actor, and shows great chemistry with all of them. It is just a shame 2046 never quite rises to the emotional heights it is trying to convey.
The DVD: Mei Ah (HK, No Region coding) This standard edition comes in a slipcase and is available in two different covers.
Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. A fairly good transfer of a visually drool-worthy film. Colors are vivid, with the pallette leaning towards warmer colors. Black level is deep, though the contrast does suffer in a few predominantly dark scenes. Sharpness levels are quite good, though it should be noted there is some softer focus photography. Technically there are two minor problems- The print does have some occasional white flecks on the print. There are some minor compression artefacts present too, though they are only noticeable in a few scenes and kept within the background details.
Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Cantonese or Mandarin languages, with optional Chinese ( traditional & simplified) or English subtitles. Well, the film doesn't really have any grand fx dynamics. It is essentially a dialogue (including a very frequent voice over) and music driven film. The score often used as the dominate piece of audio, rather than background noise, so it really fills up the speakers. Dialogue is always clear, though the voice over bits had that post-production aura. The subs had a few flubs, but were otherwise okay.
Extras: Nothing really,... Cast and Crew and Synopsis info (in Chinese). Also available in a two-disc set with extras.
Conclusion: A basic but affordable way to get your hands on a essentially flawed but undoubtably beautiful film.