Everyone who goes to 2046 has the same intention; they want to recapture lost memories. Because in 2046, nothing ever changes. But nobody knows if that is true or not because no one has ever come back.
Two neighbors, a man and a woman, find out their spouses are having an affair with each other in 60s Hong Kong. As the ache of betrayal unites the pair, the man gradually falls for the woman. She dismisses his deep feelings for her, and he is left to wonder whether she ever loved him.
They part. The man never forgets his unrequited love. The end. Four years later, and after the phenomenal success of “In the Mood for Love, Hong Kong’s greatest filmmaker Kar Wai Wong revisits the tale of his protagonist. The result is Wong s delivery of the ultimate statement on the heartbreak that accompanies unrequited love, memories and loss.
A sequel of sorts, “2046 begins following the last encounter between Chow Mo-wan (played by Tony Leung Chiu Wai) and Su Li (Maggie Cheung).
Chow returns to Hong Kong at the end of 1966. He dons a new thin moustache reminiscent of a young Clark Gable, and works as pulp-stories writer. The heartbroken Chow of “Love has morphed into a ladies man; a mean heartbreaker.
He bumps into a night girl he used to know named Lulu on Christmas Eve. They get drunk and Chow takes her back to the motel she’s staying in. On his way out, he notices that the number of her room is 2046, the same number of the room he used to share with Su Li.
He returns the next morning and the landlord tells him Lulu has moved out, so he moves into the motel and make room 2046 his new home.
Chow engages in several relationships, and each woman has a separate story, inflicted by the aftereffects of lost love.
In the midst of these entangled threads, Chow writes a futuristic novel entitled “2046. The novel revolves around a mysterious city with the same name, a place where people go to recapture and relive lost memories.
The main character of this novel is the alter ego of Chow himself, a man searching for a former lover who suddenly disappeared. He attempts to discover whether she loved him or not as he struggles to break free from the torment of her memory.
Wong has always been fascinated by the notion and nature of memories. While the function of memory differs from one person to another, its basic fundamentals are sad in nature.
Memories are traces of old lives, encounters or sensations that no longer exist. There are few genuinely joyful moments in life, and no matter how poignant they are, the process of recalling them is rendered hurtful because they are no longer attainable.
Chow is no exception, and time never manages to heal his wounds. He engages in numerous affairs in an attempt to distract himself from the haunting memories, but to no avail. He becomes incapable of creating a present, or a future devoid of the hurt he suffered with his lover’s departure.
“2046 is shot primarily inside low-lit motels and nightclubs. Chow sometimes comments on the major political events of the time, yet those events seem to take place outside the borders of his universe. The characters in “2046 are deeply immersed in their own memories and sadness, eventually becoming emotionally isolated from the real world.
Performances are simply mesmerizing. Tony Leung cements his stature as one of the greatest actors working today.
Leung captures Chow’s sadness and pain delicately while brilliantly demonstrating his character’s newfound callous persona. But even at his most heartless moments with Ziyi Zhang’s Bai Ling, Leung is too charming for anyone to dislike.
Chow’s vulnerability is heartbreaking to watch in several scenes. He is a man who has never been given what he truly longs for, and the guise he wears fails to provide any satisfaction or protect his innate fragility.
As the film nears its end, it becomes clear that Chow is a lost soul, secluded in a distant space created by his reveries.
Speaking of Zhang, the young Chinese actress nearly steals the show with her best performance to date. It is astonishing how Zhang channels Ling as she moves from one emotional extreme to another, evolving from a playful, merry young woman to a desperate, heartbroken wreck.
Every gesture Zhang articulates is genuinely moving. Her onscreen chemistry with Leung puts nearly every recent screen pairing to shame.
The rest of the performances are nothing short of astounding as well. Faye Wong returns to the silver screen in her second collaboration with Wong after her unforgettable performance in “Chungking Express. She takes on the role of the lovesick, gentle daughter of the motel’s landlord in addition to a robot in the “2046 novel.
Li Gong is equally magnificent as Su Li Zhen, a mysterious gambler who teaches Chow how to win a few poker games. Gong’s passionate, tearful kiss with Leung is among the greatest onscreen kisses of modern cinema.
“2046 is arguably Wong’s best directorial effort to date. It’s a quiet movie, sometimes slow. Wong doesn’t move his camera a lot and when he does, it’s usually in slow motion. His film doesn’t follow a chronological order, beginning near the end and going backwards to tell fragments of each story.
His technique resembles memories: their subjectivity, irrationality and dream-like figures. His images are exceedingly lush, sensual and utterly sad.
Wong’s films are always about mood, characters and limitless visual wastelands. His camera captures every whisper, every twirl of Ling’s body, every drop of pen and every puff of smoke through a poetic visual palette that resembles the gentle tears falling slowly, violently, from his characters’ eyes.
The soundtrack combines Christmas classics, excerpts of famous operas and, most prominently, Zbigniew Preisner’s theme for “A Short Story about Killing. Shigeru Umebayashi’s melancholic score is a throwback to a different time and place.
As the credits rolled the first time I watched “2046 a couple of years ago, I realized I didn’t want it to end. I wanted to go back to 2046, to relive Chow’s journey, to fall in love again with Bai Ling.
2046 is, as critic Glenn Kenney described it, “a movie to live in, a world I made a habit of revisiting frequently.
Like the residents of the city, I visit 2046 to recapture my lost memories.
“2046 is screening next Sunday at the Mahmoud Mokhtar Culture Center. For more information, call (02) 2735 1123.