dir: Wong Kar Wai
[img_assist|nid=964|title=In the Mood for Love Revisited|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=320|height=452]
2046 is a lush, beautifully filmed movie with an aching coldness at its heart. It’s a complementary film to In the Mood for Love, but it’s so much of a mutated yet ‘faithful’ continuation that calling it a sequel feels inaccurate.
In the Mood for Love was about two people clearly in love with each other trapped by circumstances and their apartments into never being together. 2046 has the male character, Chow Mo Wan (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) continue on his way whilst doing an autopsy on himself the whole time. It is essentially about how screwed up he is as a person now that he refuses to open his heart ever again after ‘losing’ Su Li Zhen (Maggie Cheung) from the first film.
So, even though he swans about with his cool pimp moustache and looks the dapper dandy, inside, his heart is dead. Women are in ready supply and close proximity, but he uses them solely for sex and keeps them a million miles away emotionally. The ones that want him repulse him, the ones that he thinks he might want, were he not an amputee from the result of dwelling permanently in the past, don’t want or care about him at all.
It’s not that different from regular life, of course. The complexities of relationships, sex, human interactions are magnified and made beautiful for the purposes of such a film, but the rest of us live through these miseries on a daily basis. Though we’re not smoking all the time, immaculately dressed and coiffured, and as passionately restrained or beautifully filmed as these people.
Mo Wan’s life is an empty experience, passive on the surface, with the real turmoil going on solely in his head, which he shares with us through a voiceover but never to any other characters. To make some extra cash, and in the vain hope of perhaps exorcising the ghosts of lost love, he writes a trashy erotic sci-fi novel called 2046, linking to the room number Su Li Zhen lived in the first film (which isn’t really true, by my recollection it was the hotel room number where they met up late in the film).
2046 is the past, it’s the pain that he chooses to live in and wallow, the loss that he refuses to live without, the sure symbol of his inability to move forward in the rest of his life. 2046 is also referred to as a futuristic place few people can ever leave, and those that do are permanently haunted by it.
Even those who escape are still trapped, like his Japanese character on the sci-fi train, perpetually in motion towards a place called 2047, but never seeming to get there. He is surrounded by female robots, to whom he tries to connect, but he cannot trust their delayed reactions.
The robots themselves, played by women playing other roles in the story, are unknowable, and distant, the older they get and the more confusing their surroundings, the less timely their responses. The character’s problems all stem from women, or are projected onto the women. Gosh, they’re bitches, aren’t they?
Kar Wai uses 2046 to not only wrap up loose threads and pay homage to his other films, but also to lavishly represent the extreme difficulty he has with relating to women.
They are funny creatures, aren’t they? I admit to finding them quite fascinating and perplexing at times. But I can at least connect to them. I mean, with them. Perhaps I delude myself into believing that they are knowable. It begs the quite pretentious and unanswerable question of whether any gender truly understands the other, or whether any person really gets inside the heart and mind of another. If, as some neuro-theorists and scholars of the cognitive sciences posit, that our own consciousness is an illusion, then the consciousness of other people must be doubly so to us.
It is tempting to strip away the layers of meaning and consciousness associated with other people and to just see them as mannequins, or inhuman, sometimes. At least it is for serial killers and politicians, I guess. The least satisfying aspect of the film is probably those moments on the sci-fi train that never reach its destination. But they’re probably the most meaningful to Wong Kar Wai’s points about women, at least to his main character, about the isolation of the past and the future, the difficulty with the emotional ‘present’, the inability to really move in any direction.
It is almost sad to see the main character’s transformation from a lovesick fool to a cynical observer, whose emotions are represented solely in the voice-over. On the surface he is all cool urbanity, and the picture of a charming man, but it hardly masks the amused sadism of his actions and the hollowness inside.
And his perversity, as such, convincing himself that he could almost be in love with the women that don’t want or need him, is unconvincing to us. He doesn’t buy it, and neither do we.
Tony Leung gives a perfect performance as required by the part, but that doesn’t make him likeable. What sympathy he earned in In The Mood for Love soon dissipates and is replaced with frustration for his crippled soul.
They return several times to what is one of the most simple, beautiful and romantic moments in any of Wong’s films: the image of someone whispering a secret into a cleft in the rocks of the Cambodian temple Angkor Wat, because they cannot bring themselves to say it out loud to another person, and the world can no longer accept it. The moment ended In the Mood for Love in a heart breaking way. It is repeated here several times, into a bizarro sculpture, for different reasons and different layers of meaning.
Repetition works again throughout 2046 in strange ways. For reasons unfathomable to myself, one of the many women in the film Mo Wan is involved with, one who loss affects him the most and caps off the damage from the earlier film, is a different woman called Su Li Zhen, played by Gong Li, sharing a character’s name with the role played by Maggie Cheung as his unattainable love in the first film. I don’t get it, since they’re different characters completely, and the narrator tells us that this is the woman whose loss, whose rejection of him because she is a prisoner of her past, has damaged him the most.
Perhaps all people to us are shades or copies of other people, once we get to a certain stage or age, every else becomes a version of someone else.
One of the few actors to do better here than anywhere else, since the majority of the cast have done great work for Wong Kar Wai and other directors, is Zhang Ziyi. Here she displays an acting ability and maturity not present in most of the other roles I’ve seen her in. Then again, everything else I’ve seen her in just need her to act petulant and kick the shit out of people.
As one of Mo Wan’s paramours, her role as Bai Ling stood out to me the most. She makes the tragic mistake many of us have made in our lives and beds. Despite a street-smart manner, she mistakenly believes if you sleep with someone often enough, it means you have a relationship. Her sorrow and confusion affected me more than anyone else’s emotional gladiatorial contests and minefields.
She, like the women throughout the flick, is immaculately well dressed and stylish, vulnerable and ‘professional’ at the same time. The women all have those mad 50s – 60s hairstyles, though not quite beehives. Though filmed over many years, it maintains a clear identity and sense of time, even though everything filmed in the apartments feels voyeuristic and claustrophobic. Wong Kar Wai’s films don’t always work for me, but he is, if nothing else, an accomplished director with vision and a vision for what he wants, which is more than most directors can say.
2046 is every bit the art installation is sounds like, though I can’t imagine anyone who doesn’t like Wong Kar Wai’s many beautiful but decidedly pretentious films, or who didn’t love In the Mood for Love getting anything out of it. They might find it too experimental or ‘clever’, though it is neither. It is interesting, though. It’s just not the romantic masterpiece that its predecessor is.
7 secrets whispered into the stones of a temple out of 10
"All memories are traces of tears" - 2046