2046 ★★★½

The Wong Kar-wai films I've loved (and I do get around to loving them) don't always impress me on first viewing. I thought Chungking Express was meh and In the Mood for Love slow the first time I saw them, then taught In the Mood for Love and realized how great it was, went back and watched Chungking Express again and wondered why I hadn't liked it in the first place. So when I tell you that I thought 2046 was not as good as the others, well, maybe I need to watch it again now that it has finally been released in the USA.

I got the film on DVD. The transfer is very good, which matters because the film is so damn gorgeous. The great cinematographer Christopher Doyle is at the top of his game, or someone is ... the framing is just remarkable, as the widescreen is manipulated by the very walls of the sets, so that you'll get shots where only part of the screen is visible, not because of some CGI trick but because they stuck the characters next to a wall.

Doyle may also have the final say on the movie itself, which is a vague sequel to In the Mood for Love. "I feel that 2046 is unnecessary, in retrospect," he said. "I think probably Wong Kar-wai realized that somewhere, and that's why it took so long. You do realize that you have basically said what you needed to say, so why say more? I feel that way. I think you have to move on."

It's hard to complain about a film that uses so many great actors to their advantage. Tony Leung, of course, and all the women: Faye Wong, Gong Li, Zhang Ziyi, even Maggie Cheung herself in a brief cameo. For those of you who aren't fans of Chinese cinema, this cast is kinda the Asian equivalent of an American movie with Clark Gable, Madonna, Meryl Streep, Angelina Jolie, and Marlene Dietrich, all in their prime and all doing terrific jobs. The soundtrack is dreamily effective ... Wong Kar-wai is as good as Scorsese in constructing these soundtracks. And there's an indescribable mood, whereby one almost feels nostalgic for the future, which seems impossible yet works in the film. Yet in the end, the film evaporates ... you get the feeling that there's nothing beneath the surface, which is disappointing in a film with so much portent.

The result is a movie that I can easily recommend to fans of the director, but if you've yet to encounter his movies, better to start with Chungking Express for something kicky and In the Mood for Love for something romantic and atmospheric.