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Photograph by Wing Shya/Sony Pictures Classics

Golden Glow: Ziyi Zhang haunts the hallways of Wong Kar-wai's '2046.'

Splashes Of Time

Wong Kar-wai's glossy, elastic masterpiece '2046' grasps for an elusive human connection

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

AFTER YEARS in production, countless rewrites and reshoots and an unwisely premature screening at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival, Wong Kar-wai's expensive, mysterious 2046 finally emerges as a fully formed and astoundingly beautiful masterpiece.

A sequel, but really more of a companion piece, to Wong's In the Mood for Love (2000), the events in 2046 could be taking place at the same time in the same building, but the new film exists on its own plane.

Tony Leung Chiu Wai (also from In the Mood for Love) stars as Chow Mo-Wan, a former newspaperman and current pulp writer, circa the late 1960s. After bumping into an old flame, Lulu (Carina Lau Ka Ling), and visiting her hotel room, he returns several days later only to find that she has disappeared. Since her room is as yet unavailable, he checks into 2047 and proceeds to have a series of encounters and relationships with the several women who move in next door, to 2046.

In Mood for Love, Leung's character (also called Chow Mo-Wan) is a married man who spends the entire film pining for a married woman (Maggie Cheung); both suspect their spouses are having an affair with each other, but neither can bring themselves to begin their own affair.

In 2046, his character Chow's relationships are no longer so pure, so evenly spaced out. The only thing that defines or delineates Chow and his women is the wall between the two hotel rooms; this physical barrier accompanies the glossy emotional one.

Perhaps the secret lies in the introduction to Chow's sci-fi pulp novel: "Every passenger who goes to 2046 has the same intention. They want to recapture lost memories because nothing ever changes in 2046. Nobody knows if that's true because nobody's ever come back."

As the film lurches back and forth within an elastic time frame, we meet Chow's various women, each with her own unique dynamic. The landlord's daughter (Faye Wong, Chungking Express) is secretly in love with a Japanese man (Kimura Takuya), and Chow slithers into her life when he helps smuggle her love letters into the building.

He also insinuates himself into the life of a lovely call girl, Bai Ling (Ziyi Zhang), and even gets her to pay him for his favors. Not surprisingly, Zhang (House of Flying Daggers) steals her portion of the film with one of her most sprightly, bewitching performances. Almost unintentionally, she leaves us with the notion that she above all the other women might actually be the one for Chow.

Gong Li (Raise the Red Lantern) also co-stars, in a flashback as a woman with the same name as Maggie Cheung's In the Mood for Love character, spurning Chow's sad, dreamy advances. Wong inserts ghostly blips of Cheung, embodying her character from the previous movie, to round things out.

In a fantasy sequence—the visualization of Chow's in-progress pulp novel—we delve into the supersaturated futuristic world of 2046, where people go to retrieve lost memories. Stretching reality into fantasy, Faye Wong appears again as a robot that coaxes genuine feelings from a hapless human voyager, played by Takuya. With its awesome colors and shapes this astonishing section resembles the best parts of Blade Runner.

It's endlessly impressive how much Wong compresses into this epic poem. 2046 is a culmination and an expansion of everything he has done before, with all of the lost loves and missed connections, crammed and scattered into one gorgeously detailed, richly textured film.

Each character wears glamorous yet restrictive clothing that carefully reveals his or her true form, and even Chow's lothario moustache and slicked hair call attention to their own flimsy, ineffective shield. Every cigarette, every dimly lit hallway, every scrap of color struggling to be seen against the golden gloom feels deliberate and definite. In a weird way, Wong's 1994 kung fu film Ashes of Time even fits, since Chow is a pulp writer and once toiled away on cheap kung fu novels.

At first Chow seems like a corrupt playboy, a serial womanizer that only longs for what he can't have. But as the film draws toward its conclusion, we begin to realize that he is more of a lost soul, unable to truly connect with anyone. The saddest part is that, like any artist—even a film director—he's perceptive enough to realize it.

2046 (R; 129 min.), directed and written by Wong Kar-wai, photographed by Christopher Doyle, Kwan Pun Leung and Lai Yiu Fai and starring Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Gong Li and Ziyi Zhang, opens Friday at selected theaters.

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From the August 17-23, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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