At the 7:30pm press screening, a heretofore polite festival turned nasty as moviegoers steamrolled their way into the Salle Debussy in hopes of watching the film in a bigger theater than the one showing "2046" later in the evening. As the opening credits rolled, the Debussy had become so crowded that some were forced to watch the entire film standing up (something I do not recommend--take my word for it). When it was over, one could sense the press corps trying very hard to embrace what they saw, since the film was nothing like what they spent four years expecting.
"2046" is not Wong Kar-wai's "Blade Runner." None of it really happens in the future: In the film, Chow Mo Wan (Tony Leung Chin-Wai) is a writer of pulp fiction whose new book takes place in the year 2046. Also, "2046" has next to nothing to do with the British handover of Hong Kong (2046 is the eve of the fiftieth anniversary of the handover, which led to the speculation). So, what we're left with is a sequel of sorts to "In the Mood for Love." "2046" occupies the same general space and time as the previous film and Tony Leung Chin-Wai even plays the same character (or at least a character with the same name). In the film, he lives in suite 2047 of a Hong Kong hotel while suite 2046 is occupied by a rotating assortment of beautiful women. We're introduced to each of these ladies on four consecutive Christmas Eves, starting in 1966. The most important is Bai Ling (an excellent Zhang Ziyi, clearly poised to be an international star), a prostitute who initially shares only drinks with Chow, then eventually shares his bed. She's falling in love with him, but he treats her like he treats all the women in his life and she is ultimately rejected. Later in room 2046 is the daughter of the hotel's owner. She's fallen in love with a Japanese man and since her Chinese father disapproves, Chow is right there to provide solace. The film moves along these lines, as Chow and the four women meet either too early or too late to fall in love, thereby providing "2046" with its theme: the futility of living in the past and the inability of people to move beyond whatever memories enslave them.
What's disappointing about "2046" is that, unlike "In the Mood for Love," the film is all form and precious little function. Three amazing cinematographers (Christopher Doyle, Lai Yiu Fai and Kwan Pun Leung) provide dark and sumptuous visuals, but emotionally there is really nothing to grab onto. None of the characters are fleshed out, although the first-rate performances keep that flaw from proving fatal. Also, director Wong Kar-wai is notorious for not being able to put a film to bed and here, the reshoots and reedits (which reduced Maggie Cheung to a cameo) may have turned the film into a bit of a muddle.
Admittedly, there is something intoxicating about the film that keeps you going. Whether it's the gorgeous photography or the hope that eventually the whole enterprise will come together (it never quite does), "2046" floats on a promise of greatness, even if that promise remains ultimately unfulfilled. Starring Tony Leung Chiu-Wai and Zhang Ziyi . Produced, written and directed by Wong Kar-wai. An SPC release. Drama. Rated R for sexual content. Running time: 124 min