I’ve spent the last two nights watching Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love and 2046 back to back. Most people seem to prefer In the Mood for Love, but I’ve always preferred 2046; and having watched them together, I still do. The truth, though, is they are not really films you can see apart – or a lot will be lost if you do. 2046 is the sequel to In the Mood for Love – perhaps the sequel to all Wong Kar Wai’s works up to it (the liner notes suggest I re-watch Days of Being Wild too) – but more than a sequel, the entire first film haunts the second, exists as the basis for every emotion and feeling in it; – and yet, I’ve seen 2046 many times without remembering much of In the Mood for Love; and in truth, if you’d never seen the first film, it wouldn’t matter, you could still understand the second – as much as perhaps it can be understood, cryptic as at times it likes to be; yet, it would be a pity, for In the Mood for Love adds such wealth to the film, informs each scene in it, each relationship with a new dimension.
I don’t know where to start on these two works, so I shall just take on strand. The idea of 2046, as written by Chow (our hero) in his novel of the name, is – it seemed to me, though I already need to re-watch it – that it is the place – the thing – all people are seeking, which is love, as all the characters are in both these films; and the hero in the novel – written after In the Mood for Love and about his experiences in that film – though oblique to it, as art is inclined – is the one man who has ever escaped 2046, travelling away on the train (where, as it happens, he falls in love, perhaps – in the original book’s sequel: 2047 – with an android, based on Faye Wong’s character, whom he also falls in love with, though she loves another, in the real world of 1960s Hong Kong, and whom despite being in love with persuades to run after that other – perhaps, now I think of it, much in the manner of Casablanca – so that she won’t make the same mistakes he did in In the Mood for Love), though it is painful for him to escape – and people find it incomprehensible, most of all one suspects – in the real world – himself – as he escaped from love in In the Mood for Love, or at least believed he did, though it’s clear he didn’t, and can’t – and his every act is haunted by that love, from which he still cannot free himself yet which he knows is lost.
That is, I believe, the plot – or a bit of it – but, as is the way of Wong Kar Wai, none of it is much explained; everything is done instead by contrast, by subtle, shifting variation.
Later: I wake up in the morning and think, No, the woman he has in love with and whom he can’t get over is his wife; or was his wife, and this is why he wasn’t able to commit himself to Su Li-zhen in In the Mood for Love, which leads to all his subsequent problems, his unwillingness to recognise he is in love of with other women, his attempts at strange platonic relationships which don’t really work. One of the wonderful things about In the Mood for Love is that you never see the spouses of our two romantic heroes, who themselves have fallen in love: you hear their voices, but they are always out of shot or have their backs turned to the camera; as if they are unimportant to the story, not the focus, which they are in a way but also aren’t. And there’s this constant trick too, in both the films, that you mistake the person whose back is to the camera, from the dialogue – from the scenes taking place – for a different character, which then feed in to the strange scenes between Chow and Li-zhen in which they rehearse other scenes which are to take place with other people (mistaken by some critic, I feel – perhaps Peter Bradshaw – as just incomprehensible scenes they are having of their own), which in turn feed in to the idea of writing novels, oblique to but based on life, as Chow is, which themselves constantly rehearse and recollect such moments of significance.
And what, I think, of the political aspects of the film, which in my ignorance I am surely missing. Is not his wife perhaps Britain? 2046, apart from being a hotel room and a book and a place to which all people strive, is also the year in which Hong Kong becomes fully under Chinese suzereignty. The relationship with Su Li-zhen then becomes a bit more comprehensible in its strangeness, in its awkwardness, the destined love neither seems willing to accept, for perhaps they represent Hong Kong and China. (And what of Japan, a land associated in In the Mood for Love with betrayal; and in 2046 with obstructed love, eventually overcome?). In the end credits of 2046, there’s endless, what I take to be, archive audio – most of it in languages incomprehensible to me – but there’s a speech by Margaret Thatcher, perhaps about the end of British rule in Hong Kong (this was my impression), and what appeared to be commentary on the 1966 World Cup final. (Is it all from dates ending in 6?). And why were there riots in Hong Kong, as referred to casually in the voice-over?