Steve G 🟨🟥’s review published on Letterboxd:
The last couple of days I have had Letterboxd's answer to the Cosa Nostra (that's Lise and Jonathan White to you) making it clear, in no uncertain terms, that I should be treading very carefully when it comes to this film.
I was threatened when I paused it a couple of times to make 'humorous' remarks about it on Twitter. There were more threats when I refused to review it last night. Then that Adam Cook piped up and called me hopeless for not having seen the rest of the trilogy. And to think that you were all sad that he's left Letterboxd! Bastard.
So 2046 was a very trying experience when it came to everything but the actual film itself. It's not like I was bloody likely to hate it or anything anyway. Admittedly I'd only seen the one Wong Kar Wai, that being Chungking Express, about 15 years ago. But I loved that and I always intended to watch more of his films. I just never got round to it. Maybe I can come out of hiding now? Look, I've given it 4.5 stars, what more do you shits want?!
I know it has regularly been said about 2046 that it is complex and sprawling and difficult to follow but if I'm honest, the only time I got lost in the whole film was during the first 2 minutes when 2046 as a concept is explained to us. I was immediately worried. "What? What the hell is that supposed to mean?!" But then I took the obviously correct option of ignoring that bit and hoping that it made sense later on. It did, and so did everything else.
It's not really a science fiction film, obviously. It's got some science fiction bits in it and considering this is supposed to be a dedicated sci-fi 'season', there might have been a chance that I would be disappointed by what it isn't. However, I found 2046 to be quite splendid. A strange film in a way, perhaps. I found myself, for the first half, intrigued by it and quite gripped by it even though there are no real grand movements or occurrences here.
I remember Chungking Express being much the same except for one notable event - people who have viewed it will know what I'm vaguely referring to immediately. It very slowly and quietly just draws you into its world and characters, capturing your attention just when there's a chance it might be starting to wander with a snippet of seemingly out of place or unexpected music or a visual flash that that Christopher Doyle is really a bit good at.
Before I knew it, I was completely fascinated by everyone in this film. The segmented nature of it was adroitly constructed and never gimmicky. Even more remarkable was that the voiceover never once bothered me as they almost always tend to do. Not sure if that's because I obviously don't understand the language, but I'm sure I've been irritated by foreign language voiceovers before. I don't discriminate. I hate them all. Almost.
For me the most gripping part of 2046 is the relationship between Tony Leung and Zhang Ziyi. It develops into something so unpredictable and fascinating that it even distracted me from Leung's distracting facial hair. I think it's easy to paint Leung as a bastard during this relationship because he does not replicate the feelings she has towards him. But I don't see it that way. I think Wong has quite simply stated that some people just don't fall for some people! There's no real rhyme nor reason for it and he doesn't present one here. It might be frustrating to many but I enjoyed its candour and how steadfastly he sticks to this line.
The candour of this relationship is then put into context by the relationships he has with the other women in his life. It does put other films that are based around unrequited love into sharp focus - almost all of them fail to have the courage of their convictions to understand that their characters don't always follow the fairytale notion that a one-sided love will eventually become a two-sided one. It doesn't work like that a lot of the time, so why should it in films?
2046 is no less delightful for it. Of course, it doesn't stop Zhang's standing from being sad and, whatever you think of Leung here, you do feel for her. Perhaps even more so when you realise that Leung's doomed to be lumbered with unrequited love himself towards the end of a quite wonderful film. It's perhaps less instantly accessible than Chungking Express but even after just two films, the style and grace that Wong's direction possesses is already something I enjoy and appreciate very much indeed.
The performances are uniformly wonderful, especially from the divine Faye Wong. Her 'retirement' from acting is a loss that I think is all too rarely felt but the profession is a lot poorer for her not being active in it. Leung meanwhile continues to be one of the world's most versatile and consistently excellent actors. He has a slightly different role here, one that is perhaps not so obviously likeable, 'heroic' and sympathetic as you would normally expect from him. That he is as strong as ever speaks as loudly as anything about how much talent he has. Had he transplanted his talent to Hollywood at some point, would he get the plaudits that he deserves? Probably. It's a complete travesty that it would take that for him to get the widespread recognition that his career deserves.
I did consider pretending to like 2046 just to stop the internet bullying before it began. No pretending necessary - which is what I expected anyway. I was delighted to be proved right.