DirkH’s review published on Letterboxd:
When I studied English the inevitability of having to read poetry was a fact. No oddments l problem to some, a view l chore to others. I definitely belonged to the latter category, much preferring proze. Until I was introduced to the metaphysical poets that is. The idea of exploring the state of a concept, a notion, an idea and thus trying to find out what it is in a few short lines is a stunning thing to read. I know for a fact that this is the reason why I love Wong Kar Wai's films so much. They are metaphysical at their core.
And 2046 might just be the very best of them.
I cannot talk about this film without talking about In the Mood for Love. Especially because it is always painful to confront an ex-lover with a new flame (so sorry, Lise). ITMFL floored me the first time I saw it. It was a gorgeous ballet performance with two dancers tragically dancing around each other. After watching it, it had provoked in me such an emotional response I immediately regarded it as one of my favourites. And then 2046 barges in and sweeps the rug from under me yet again.
And when I say barges, I mean it. Where ITMFL was a ballet performance, this is more an opera. With bombast and grand gestures it exposes and explores that tiny thing that makes us so human: love.
Thrust back into the life of Cho Mo-wan we see a man trying to come to terms with losing the love of his life. We experience this through the several connections he makes with other women. In this way Wong Kar Wai not only brilliantly layers an uncompromising look at his characters but also explores his subject in a very secular way.
Where Cho's relationship with Bai Ling could be considered exploitative and the way he treats Wang Jing Wen could be seen as an emulation of the platonic nature of his relationship in ITMFL, a kind of cyclical thing for Cho, it would be glossing over the deeper aspects of what Wong Kar Wai is trying to say here.
There seems to be an undercurrent of 'love happening at the wrong time and place'. The unrequited nature of the love Bai Ling is willing to give him and the fact that Wang Jing Wen loving someone else makes him say that's OK, 'as long as she loves someone', all boil down to the mismatch in time, place and emotion. These experiences do set wheels in motion for Cho as he, in the end, tries to create his own happy ending, introducing us to a third narrative strand. One in which we, through flashback meet another Su Li-Zhen. The same name as true love, the same urgent, emotional connection. It's almost as if he considers her a last straw to grab hold of and find some form of true connection. He is rejected though, as it seems as if he's only trying to replace her with the 'original' Su Li-Zhen and with that they part. Much later, when he tries to find her again and perhaps force that happy end, she's nowhere to be found.
At face value the story is rather clear cut. The narrative strands can feel somewhat disjointed but they're clear as to what they are and represent. It is in the story within the story where Wong Kar Wai finds a truly resonating depth. Cho is a writer, writing cheap commercial stuff. He'll write anything to pay the bills. He does start writing a science fiction story called 2047 (the number of the hotelroom he's in, next to 2046 which is the number of the hotel room he shared with his true love in ITMFL). He does because he is urged on by Wang Jing Wen, with whom he has formed a kind of writing collaboration. Wang Ji Wen is in a relationship with a Japanese man,something her father doesn't approve of. Cho helps her by accepting his letters to her and that is where their platonic relationship starts. Throughout this relationship they slowly become equals and it is hard to miss the longing in Cho's eyes. It is this relationship that changes Cho as a writer, urging him to look at himself and start from there. I find this to be another strong theme in this film. Commercialism versus the integrity of the artist. By making something that is sincere, Cho learns about himself and can accept the path he is walking on. i wouldn't go so far as to say that this is Wong Kar Way pointing fingers at others, but it certainly seems to be his belief and the way that he approaches art.
But back to love and 2047. The characters Cho uses in his story are extrapolations of his real life and, interestingly enough, the protagonist (the extension of himself) is represented by Wen's Japanese boyfriend. In the 2047 story time, love and memories are represented as a never ending, cyclical journey on a train trying to reach or leave something called 2046. An essential thing to me is that it is never about 2046, but always about the journey to and from it. It even claims that once you're there you can't return. 2046 to me is not so much love, but the concept of it, the memories attached to it and the experiences that define it. It is easy to get lost in 2046, to wallow in it, to forget who you are or where you are in the now. Once 2047's protagonist realizes this and realizes that the secret he keeps wanting to share with everyone is not a real secret, he can leave.
The metaphysical layer that the 2047 story brings to the narrative is astonishingly powerful as it enriches Cho's character and his connections to other people. It also imbues the film with a bittersweet undertone that deals with the acceptance of leaving your memories behind in a truly beautiful way. The entirety of the thing conveyed by a uniformly exquisite cast with Tony Leung Chiu-Wai and Zhang Ziyi as the absolute standouts. There are realizations these two actors can bring across without words that are truly heartbreaking.
I will not start on the score, that deserves a essay of its own. Suffice to say, it is one of the most beautiful I have ever heard.
So there it is, Wong Kar Wai does it again. With grace, intelligence and thought provoking observations he once again manages to analyse and emote so many aspects of our humanity. And I love him for it.