2046 ★★★★★

My Top 100 Favorite Films - #39


2046 (pronounced "two-oh-four-six") marks the end of the story of the characters introduced in Days of Being Wild, which was followed up in In the Mood for Love. 2046 is about Chow Mo-wan (Tony Leung), who since In the Mood for Love has become a science fiction writer, who writes about a place known as 2046, a place where people can recapture lost memories. We also see Chow's several attempts over the years to move on from his unrequited love for Su Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung).


This is a film with many allusions to both Days of Being Wild and In the Mood for Love. Before anyone brings up Pauline Kael's epic quote about how repetition is the sign of a stagnant auteur (correct me if I'm wrong about that quote), these allusions are kind of perfect in this film. The central dramatic element of this film is Chow's inability to move on from his past, so it makes sense for the film to feel a bit repetitive. For starters, 2046 was the number of the hotel room where he used to meet up with Su Li-zhen. When Chow meets Lulu, who also appeared in Days of Being Wild, he's dressed like Yuddy from that film, and he even has the same haircut as him at this point. Even the fact that we see several characters struggling to move on from their past is similar to how Days of Being Wild showed characters sharing a similar sense of loneliness, and how In the Mood for Love showed us a love affair that remained unconsummated.


The allusions work for me personally, because they help the film show us the double-sided meaning of nostalgia. On one hand, a pleasant memory of days gone by is a perfect means of escape, if your daily life feels unfulfilling. On the other hand, it is a thing of the past that cannot be reconstructed. We see this latter aspect of nostalgia fleshed out in Chow's relationships with Bai Ling (surprisingly not played by the actress Bai Ling, but by Zhang Ziyi) and another woman who is also named Su Li-zhen (Gong Li). In these relationships, Chow is either distancing himself from any intimate contact, or he is in denial of his inability to escape his past. 2046, in this regard, does a brilliant job of showing us how bittersweet nostalgia can be. It is even made more sad by the point that the only character who escapes the fictional 2046 is a character similar to a Japanese man (Takuya Kimura), who is in a relationship with the hotel manager's daughter. The hotel manager disapproves of their relationship, and the Japanese man only escapes 2046, as Tak in Chow's story, because he is basically forced out by his partner's father.


The technical aspects should also receive praise here. Christopher Doyle's cinematography deserves all the praise in the world, with some great visual allusions to the previous films in both the lighting and blocking. Wong Kar-wai's direction remains subtle and mood-based, never expositing more than necessary. There is one nitpick I want to point out, though. The voice-over narration had a tendency to either explain something that was obviously in front of the audience, or it would say something, that the characters would say the second after the narration stopped. In these cases, I feel the need to ask, was it really necessary to use it in these scenes?


In conclusion, 2046 is a brilliant film about self-reflection and nostalgia. I highly recommend it to those who are in the mood for a creative and emotionally impactful film.

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