‘2046’ – Wong Kar-wai’s pulp sci-fi romance on Peacock

Wong Kar Wai’s 2046 (China/Hong Kong, 2004), technically a sequel to In the Mood for Love (with references to Wong’s debut feature Days of Being Wild), exists in its own insular universe.

Chow Mo Wan (the glibly charming Tony Leung Chiu-wai) is a pulp fiction writer by day and lounge lizard by night, a smiling womanizer with lacquered hair, a too-neat mustache, and a cocky grin. Living in a half-remembered, half idealized projection of 1960s Hong Kong, he skips across the surface of life with a touch-and-go approach to relationships. Generous with money and time but greedy with his intimacy and commitments, his relationships are never more than skin deep.

Zhang Ziyi is his showgirl neighbor in room 2046 of his ratty Hong Kong motel, the latest in a long line of conquests (Gong Li, Faye Wong, and Carina Lau similarly pass through his arms). As Chow breaks her heart, he casts himself as the tragic hero of unrequited love in his latest work of fiction, an erotic sci-fi serial titled, of course, “2046.” His imagined tale is glimpsed in snippets and suggestions, an artificial, plastic world in glowing neon colors, like a kitsch lounge of the future.

Wong Kar-wai’s films are like seductive dances with his actors, only their practiced moves and elegant fashions serve as emotional armor. The story of 2046 is oblique at best, the narrative slips back in time and forward into fantasy, and the film circles back on itself, as if the emotionally unavailable Chow is doomed to an endless loop.

The hazy intensity of the saturated images, the enchanting soundtrack of lush lounge music, and Wong’s way of tilting intimate scenes with his skewed visuals, all create an atmosphere thick with longing and loneliness. Cinematographer extraordinaire Christopher Doyle creates a tawdry glamour and vibrant texture for Wong’s meditation on memory, regret, and emotional paralysis. The result is rich, lush, simply exquisite.

If there is a cinema more sensuous than that of Hong Kong’s master of the exquisite image Wong Kar-wai, I have yet to see it.

It won best actress and actress awards for Tony Leung Chiu-wai and Zhang Ziyi from the Hong Kong Film Awards and the award for best cinematography from the National Society of Film Critics, plus awards from the New York Film Critics Circle, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, and the Hong Kong Film Critics Society.

Rated R, in Cantonese with English subtitles.

Also on DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video, iTunes, GooglePlay, Vudu and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
2016 [DVD]
World of Wong Kar Wai (As Tears Go By, Days of Being Wild, Chungking Express, Fallen Angels, Happy Together, In the Mood for Love, 2046) (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]

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On Blu-ray and DVD with interviews with director Wong Kar-wai and stars Tony Leung and Ziyi Zhang, three featurettes, deleted scenes, an alternate ending, a music montage, notes on the numerology of 2046, and a poster gallery.


Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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