When it’s gone, you’ll know what a gift love was!

Ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation

Kahlil Gibran

  2046  (2004) 
Fantasy, Romance
Written by
Directed by
Country of Origin
 Hong Kong
Running time
 129 minutes 

oh! … brief

The film follows the life of journalist Chow Mo-wan in the aftermath of an unconsummated affair with a woman called Su Li-zhen in the early 1960’s in Hong Kong (In The Mood for Love) and is depicted through four story arcs.

Three of the story arcs are about relationships Chow Mo-wan has had with women he meets, the first Wang Jing-wen. The second Bai Ling ( a prostitute) and lastly Su Li-Zhen. The fourth story arc takes place in Chow Mo-wan’s fictitious world of 2046 and is all about a Japanese passenger aboard a time-travelling train who falls in love with a gynoid.

oh! … talks film

I’d like to say that following on the heels of In the Mood For Love, Wong Kar-wai hit 2046 out the ballpark, but as far as the screenplay goes, I had a hard time keeping the timelines, story arcs and the science-fiction fantasy elements straight. And this is why I say Wong Kae-wai is a better director than screenplay writer.

There are subtle connections between 2046 and In The Mood For Love, the leading male character has the same name, Chow Mo-wan and in both is a journalist and a person who loves a woman called Su Li-Zhen, although it is never apparent if this Chow Mo-wan from 2046 is, in fact, the same Chow Mo-wan from In the Mood For Love. Also, in both films, there is a room number 2046. Whether the audience is supposed to make the connections and draw a conclusion or not is not apparent. The connections are just there. I personally couldn’t decide if 2046 should have been a prequel or a sequel. It was very confusing!

Wong Kar-wai seems to have developed this film purely because the visual-styled-art-almost-noir film In The Mood For Love was so successful and he seems to have wanted to push those limits, at least, in my opinion. I think maybe Wong-Kar-Wai has a borderline obsession with the characters Cho Mo-wan and Su Li-Zhen or maybe it’s Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung he has an obsession with? Either way, it’s a little weird. And the writing of the screenplay is all over the place.

I found the storyline extremely complicated to follow, with current scenes, flashbacks and then futuristic scenes interspersed throughout.

The screenplay starts with the far future where a railway connects the entire planet and lonely citizens board the train to try and reach the elusive 2046 where they can recapture lost lovers. Apparently, no one returns from 2046, except of course the fictional character devised by Chow Mo-wan, a Japanese man called Tak.

The screenplay then moves on to (All Memories Are Traces of Tears) Chow Mo-wan meeting Lulu, a woman from his past. He takes her back to her room as she is quite drunk. Her room is 2046, the same number of the room he and his idealized woman (Su Li-Zhen) had shared during their emotional affair. He eventually moves into room 2047. Lulu is murdered in room 2046 by a jealous boyfriend.

Wang Jing-wen, the landlord’s daughter moves into room 2046 and Chow Mo-wan spends a lot of time watching her. She is in love with a Japanese man but her father forbids the relationship and so she breaks up with him. She suffers a breakdown and is hospitalized. Wang Jie-wen, the younger daughter of the landlord moves into 2046 and she tries hard to seduce Chow Mo-wan. It’s during this time that Chow Mo-wan starts to write his science fiction novel ‘2046’.  The story is about lovesick people and is set in the future and the only place for them to find love is in a strange place called 2046. Wong Kar-wai never explicitly states that 2046 is a place, in fact, it could be a state of mind. Chow Mo-wan bases the characters in his novel on the women he has loved and it’s rather a bizarre hash of sensual erotica and angst.

The third person to move into room 2046 is Bai Ling, a provocative girl. It’s never expressed outright that she is a call-girl/ prostitute but it’s easy to understand that’s exactly what she is. She is looking for a long-term relationship and she falls desperately in love with Chow Mo-wan after they agree to a platonic friendship as drinking buddies. Their relationship turns physical and to keep it strictly business Chow Mo-wan insists on paying a paltry sum of 10 Hong Kong dollars to avoid their relationship becoming anything more than a business arrangement. It doesn’t suit Bai Ling for long and she eventually moves out of room 2046.

Wang Jing-wen returns from the hospital and moves back into room 2046, but she is a shell of her former self. Chow Mo-wan encouraged Wang Jing-wen to help him with editing his novel, as he starts to publish chapters from it. In a twist of fate, he starts to have romantic feelings toward Wang Jing-wen and tries to start a romance with her but nothing goes anywhere as she still loves her Japanese man.

The screenplay then returns to the fictional world/ state of mind, narrated by Chow Mo-wan this time and not the Japanese man Tak. This time Tak is trying to leave 2046 because he has lost the woman he loves. Tak takes comfort with a gynoid and then falls in love with her. He asks the gynoid to leave with him but she doesn’t respond. He realizes that the gynoid doesn’t respond because she loves someone else. He then leaves the train and 2046.

The ending is weird, Chow Mo-wan helps reconnect Wang Jing-wen with her boyfriend and then runs into Lulu again. He recalls past scenes of his life and makes the determination to get over Su Li-Zhen.

Bai Ling makes a reappearance in his life briefly.

Chow Mo-wan then runs into the other Su Li-Zhen, a gambling woman who helps him recover his gambling debts. The two become lovers. But once again Su Li-Zhen won’t leave with him and so he is left alone again.

A final, cold encounter with Bai Ling ends the screenplay.

The themes for this film are regret and lost love. But it never appears that Wong Kar-wai explores the themes other than to hint at them. There is an elevated sense of pain and angst but it never surfaces beyond the subtle hints. The pain is as repressed as the love was in In The Mood For Love. It was all far too obscure for me to thoroughly enjoy or appreciate.

As you can tell from reading, this screenplay was all over the place and none of the interactions has any depth or meaning beyond offering opportunities for Wong Kar-wai to explore the visuals, and he does this with a mastery that comes naturally to him.

Wong Kar-wai uses flamboyant architecture, billowing cigarette smoke, silhouettes and of course a lavish wardrobe as background to his amazing close-up and medium shots. Wong Kar-wai really understands how to create visual abundance and directs three cinematographers for this film – Christoper Doyle (a long time favourite of his), Kwan Pun-Leung and Lai Yiu-fai.

There is perhaps more meaning to the visual narrative than there ever was in the spoken narration. – think to the swirls on the wallpaper viewed through the grille in apartment 2046, they are playful and expressive just like the curling smoke from lit cigarettes, and then the curve of Bai Ling’s back – all exquisite and alluring. These curls and curves are important and used to tantalize or tease the sexual innuendo. The camera work takes on an almost voyeuristic style, spying on the back view of the female characters, the curve of their form in tightfitting cheongsam-like dresses and sexy stilettos.

And once again, Wong Kar-wai makes adequate use of the musical score which features original music by Shigeru Umebayashi2046 Main Theme, Interlude, Polonaise, Lost, Long Journey and Interlude II. He also adopted the music of Peer RabenDark Chariot and Sisyphos At Work. Secret GardenAdagio and Nat King Cole’s The Christmas Song, among many others. My playlist on Spotify is below.

Performances were stellar from the cast, but with award-winning actors and actresses, it’s no surprise.

Tony Leung played Chow Mo-wan once again. This time around he replaced his hangdog visage for a more suave, cool, calculated exterior. Chow Mo-wan also loses his grace a little and becomes more of a playboy, with seductive smiles and playful, teasing charm. It was an interesting performance to see this Chow Mo-wan character from a different perspective. Tony Leung did a great job!

Maggie Cheung returns to play Su Li-Zhen, the woman Chow Mo-wan loved the most. Maggie Cheung’s scenes were mostly delivered in flashbacks and of course, in her true style, she reminds us the graceful Su Li-Zhen from In The Mood For Love. In this minor role, Maggie Cheung stills deliver a strong performance.

I love Gong Li and her playing another Su Li-Zhen was a wise decision on Wong Kar-wai’s part. Gong Li always delivers a solid performance and her characters typically bring an arresting aspect to a film. This was no exception. Gong Li’s Su Li-Zhen was strong, defiant, and sexy!

Faye Wong delivered the character Wang Jing-wen with crafty insight and interpretation. She also doubled as a gynoid on the 2046 train. I think Faye Wong gave a believable performance as a young woman smitten with a Japanese man but not courageous enough to defy her father’s wishes. I enjoyed this character.

Lulu was played by Carina Lau and while she is a wonderful actress I didn’t enjoy this performance as much as I would have liked to. Granted the role was very short-lived and small but I found it a bit flaky.

I did however thoroughly enjoy Dong Jie’s interpretation of her character Wang Jie-wen, the young of the landlord’s daughters. I think Dong Jie’s interpretation of a lively, full of spunk, happy-go-lucky and flirtatious young woman was perfection.

Another of my favourite actresses, Zhang Ziyi played the seductive Bai Ling. Zhang Li always brings her character to life, no matter what the role. She achieved this once again here and of all the women Chow Mo-wan courts, she is the most beautiful and the most suited in my opinion. I loved Zhang Ziyi’s interpretation of her character’s haughtiness and then her falling in love and becoming almost clingy, it was very well delivered. Even the sad, almost bitter departure was conveyed so well that I really felt her pain. I loved this performance the most out of all the characters.

oh! … sidekick

There is only one supporting actor that I want to mention for his performance and that is Takuya Kimura who doubles as the Japanese boyfriend of Wang Jing-wen and Tak the passenger on the train. Both characters were brought to life by Takuya Kimura.

oh! … that’s a wrap

This is never going to be my favourite Wong Kar-wai film. I appreciated the visual narrative but found the film itself lacking in direction and I found it hard to understand why it was produced in the first place. Don’t get me wrong, I love Wong Kar-wai and I love how he creates astounding beauty in his films. I struggled with the story of this one because the writing of the narrative was so disjointed. But, if you are a fan of art-house styled films or film noir, then you’ll appreciate the beauty captured in the camera lens. This is a very visually stimulating production.

I do recommend this film, even just on the basis that the cinematography is so exquisite, while the story is weak. I don’t think I’ll watch it again though and it’s not one likely to make my collection. Sorry, Wong Kar-wai – this was not a winner for me!

oh! … soundtrack

oh! … gallery

oh! … trailers

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