We never seem to get to review things the way we’d like…we try to post longer reviews on the IFC News site, but it always seems the week slips away from us and other responsibilities (like putting this together for one of IFC’s new series) gobble our time. We missed writing up "2046" the way we’d planned to last week, and we can’t let it just slide by without a comment or two. So if you’ll indulge us (we’re all friends here, right?), we’d like to drop the first-person plural and the pretense that what we write reflects either the opinion of the entire Independent Film Channel or a staff of dozens aiding us in our blogging duties for a moment, and just dwell on the film. Okay? After the jump…
I turned down many tempting offers of DVD loans to first see Wong Kar-wai‘s latest in the theater. Twice, thus far. If anyone deserves to have their films seen only larger than life and, ideally, in some decrepit single-screen theater, it would be Wong.
It’s easy to imbue the film with some sense of mythology â€” we already know it took five years, it spanned the SARS epidemic, it premiered at Cannes before it was even finished, it features a cast of some of the most iconic Asian films stars to appear on screen. With all that in mind, it’s almost required to be a great success or an even greater failure, and I’m firmly with the first camp. "2046" is, as Michael Atkinson at the Village Voice put it, an Ã¼ber-work, the ultimate Wong Kar-wai film: a gloriously indulgent, visually searing ode to lost love, nostalgia and the passage of time that is just as much about a longing for the receding Hong Kong of Wong’s films, an increasingly rarefied revisited memory of glittering cheongsams, gilt mirrors and Nat King Cole that only ever really existed on celluloid. Watching it is like mainlining pure cinema, such is the heady rush of lush images and florid emotions. Tony Leung, who both is and isn’t really Chow Mo-wan from "In the Mood for Love" and the gambler at the end of "Days of Being Wild," is the film’s center, sad-eyed and handsome in a trim suit, a low-rent writer and a ladies’ man living on charm and in love with his own romantic wounds.
Of the women who past through his life, much has been made, rightly, of Zhang Ziyi‘s performance as Bai Ling, the call girl living across the hall from Chow who falls hard for him. Zhang is unbelievably good here, the incandescent axis around which the film turns â€” if Maggie Cheung climbing a half-lit staircase to her apartment was the central image to take from "In the Mood for Love," Zhang Ziyi preening in front of a hallway mirror on her way out is the equivalent for "2046."
Despite this, the performance that lingered in my mind the most on second viewing was Carina Lau (Tony Leung’s long-term real-life love) in a smaller role as Lulu, a fading dance-hall girl Chow encounters at the beginning of the film. He knew her well some time ago in Singapore, but she, inexplicably, seems not to remember him, even as he reels out more and more details of their time together. Later in the film, we see Lulu again, as an android, a figure in one of Chow’s sci-fi stories. She faces the camera in tears, but, as she walks down a white hallway, wipes them away and continues, smile restored. In her own way, she haunts the film as much as Maggie Cheung, who drifts, wordless, through a few sparing scenes â€” Chow sees her as poetically resilient, rushing headlong into tragic affairs again and again, shrugging off heartbreak. "The male lead could change, as long as she was the leading lady," he says of her as she glides off the screen to Xavier Cugat’s "Perfidia." But we see her as Chow does not, weeping in the titular hotel room in which he leaves her, a mirror image of him â€” fixated on the memory of a lost love to whom no one else will ever be able to live up.