2046 (2004)
Directed by Kar Wai Wong

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * ½

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Chow Mo Wan (Tony Leung), a philandering writer living in Hong Kong in the 1960s, moves into a hotel, where he becomes romantically involved with a young prostitute (Zhang Ziyi), befriends his landlord's daughter, recalls his relationship with a female gambler in Singapore, and writes a story about a man escaping from 2046, which includes details from his own life and the lives of the various persons he has met.

Kar Wai Wong's 2046 is often pretentious and occasionally slow going, but it is sufficiently affecting and visually striking that it is well worth seeing.

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The sets the director uses throughout the film are almost all inspired. Wong gives each of the locations his characters inhabit its own distinctive look and feel, distinguishing it from the others while, simultaneously, using it to complement them. He presents Singapore as a dark and threatening place, like some vast, damp, and ruinous cavern, and contrasts it with the hotel in which the protagonist lives in Hong Kong, which he bathes in deep reds and greens and constructs entirely out of narrow halls and claustrophobic rooms. Adorned with peeling paint, crowned with a decaying neon sign, and filled with shoddy furniture, the place is infused with both a genuine charm and a sense of oppressive sadness. Perhaps the film's most inventive sets, however, are those Wong uses for the train in which the man in the protagonist's story is escaping from 2046. In the sequences depicting this story, the director shows the viewer a world that seems to have been inspired by visions of the future current in films and television programs from the 1970s and music videos from the 1980s. The effect he achieves is quirky, intriguing, and engaging. Even though 2046 is not a brilliant film, Wong has made it so impressive to look at that the viewer is unlikely to find his attention wandering for long.

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This is not to say, however, that 2046 is enjoyable only for its appearance. The director successfully evokes a real sense of tragedy and lets this feeling pervade nearly the whole of his movie. There is hardly a character in the film whose life is not, for some reason or another, filled with sorrow. Chow Mo himself, for example, despite his relationships with a number of women, is unable to form an abiding attachment to any of them. Being incapable of emotional involvement, he remains isolated, lonely, and unsatisfied. In fact, not only does he wound himself because of this alienation, he hurts those around him as well. While the viewer is not always allowed to see into these other persons' hearts, he is given the opportunity to experience their sorrows, both those Chow Mo has caused them and those which have arisen independently of him.


What is more, the members of the cast suffuse each of the film's central characters with such a vibrant life that the viewer is quickly enthralled by their performances and, consequently, better able to absorb himself in their characters' stories. Zhang Ziyi, in particular, deserves recognition for the work she has done in the movie. Although she is in 2046 as ethereally beautiful as she always is, the actress brings such a sense of desperate sadness to her role that her very loveliness contrasts with the terrible conditions of her life. She is like some heavenly being, some apsaras, mired in a wretched, horrible world filled with cruelty and misery, and, being so, she arouses an astonishing feeling of tragedy in the viewer. Ms Ziyi, in fact, brings to the film both a remarkable physical presence and a genuinely inspired performance. Even though she is surrounded by other actors who all acquit themselves extremely well, she still manages to stand out.

Despite such considerable virtues, 2046 does have a number of faults, as has been noted above. It is, sometimes, poorly paced, and, more frequently, it can be annoyingly pretentious. Had he made less of an effort to display his own sophistication, the director would, almost certainly, have crafted a better movie.

I do not, however, mean to imply that 2046 is fatally flawed. While it is not a masterpiece, by any means, it is a genuinely enjoyable and generally well made film.

Review by Keith Allen

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