2046, dir. Wong Kar Wai

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?

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10 thoughts on “2046, dir. Wong Kar Wai

  1. Funny that. I took out my copy of 2046 two days ago and wanted to watch it but wasn’t sure all of a sudden if I didn’t have to rewatch In the Mood for Love first. I liked it very much, it’s one of my favourite movies but have heard people say that 2046 is even better. I’ll have to pay attention to the end credits.
    I never understood the significance of Cambodia in In the Mood for Love.

  2. It’s a wonderful film I’d love to see again. Ashes of Time Redux (which I haven’t seen) is being shown on Channel 4 on Christmas Eve, which is nice. I haven’t seen a Wong film I haven’t loved, but then I haven’t seen the famous flop My Blueberry Nights.

  3. I think maybe 2046 is better if you prefer unrestrained-but-ultimately-tragic-love to restrained-and-ultimately-tragic-love. The Cambodia section does seem a bit tacked on – as does the whole last part of In the Mood for Love; perhaps the production crew just fancied a trip to Angkor Wat. That he whispers his secret into a hollow in the stone seems to be a, flawed, attempt to escape from the love he is suffering – an idea that occurs a lot in his subsequent fiction in 2046.

    I might try and watch Ashes of Time, since I should be near a real television that actually has Channel 4 on it around that time. Or maybe I’ll get my father to record it: I imagine we have to get together with the other villagers and sacrifice an outsider to the pagan gods that night, as we do every Christmas. (I might remember to take my camera this time).

    My library seems to have Days of Being Wild and My Blueberry Nights (I’ve seen the former, I imagine – never seen the latter). (Knowing the Chinese prediliction for clothing, in my mind I think of it as My Burberry Nights). I didn’t know it was a flop (in fact, I know nothing about it, having lost track of cinema since about 2005). Wasn’t 2046 a flop too, due to general incomprehensibility? – Anyhow, I shall get them both out in the new year.

  4. Yes, do take the camera. I think 2046 wasn’t a flop with so-called cinephiles but certainly with people who go for mainstream. Maybe I should watch My Blueberry Nights as a warm up. I got it here somewhere as well. I will report back.

  5. I think some critics deemed 2046 a flop mainly because it was hotly tipped to win the Palme d’Or, but failed, thus meriting many snorts of derision. The winner was Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11.

    My Blueberry Nights stars mediocre singer Norah Jones, which put me off going to see it more than the reviews did. Mediocre singers sometimes turn out to be effective actors, so maybe I was being unfair.

  6. I’ve juts finished watching it and must say the mediocre singer is even a more mediocre actress. It’s kind of a mixed bag, the cinematography, the colors, some of the shots that look like Polaroids are really nice. The dialogue is…Pff… And there is a lot of mediocre singing and a lot of crying. It’s actually a road movie. He tried some Jarmushh thing but it didn’t work so well. But you need to see for yourself. In any case it didn’t feel like a Wong Kar Wei.

  7. Hmm, is it in English? – I guess I can’t see Norah Jones delivering her dialogue in Chinese. – Because if it’s in English, then I’m already feeling a whole lot more reticent remembering the great Chinese director Chen Kaige (Farewell My Concubine, Temptress Moon) and his foray into English-language cinema, the execrable, Killing Me Softly. A film so bad that once, during a dream, when I happened to meet Chen Kaige, I asked him why he’d been driven to make it (having long thought he’d done so as a remarkable satire on Western culture), but – this being a dream – someone it happened that he never answered me.

  8. I tried to watch Ashes of Time, but could only get about 30 minutes through it. It really isn’t very good. It did have again the theme where a man leaves a woman he loves for no explicable reason though.

  9. I quite liked it, I have to say. The battle scenes didn’t work, though. What’s the point in hiring Sammo Hung as your fight choreographer if you’re going to blur his work to kingdom come?

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