The thing about Wong Kar Wai is that you’re never sure if he’s just putting one over on you. He straddles the line between dreamy and brilliant and completely pointless. One moment you’re dazzled, the next, you’re wondering, wait a minute, am I bored and afraid to admit it? Wong’s latest, 2046, continues the story of the heartbroken Tony Leung character from In the Mood for Love as he doggedly persists in keeping his relationships as shallow sexual dalliances.
2046 is more visually interesting than In the Mood For Love and less tedious. Incoherent scenes from Leung’s science fiction story “2046” liven things up with some weird future-costumes and jarring LG product placement. Product placement in an art movie is weird enough, but LG? Yep, everything in the future is made by them, even if you’re writing your science fiction stories in 1966, before the company existed. Also, here we get cute Faye Wong and hot Zhang Ziyi instead of just Maggie Cheung. There is still a lot of song repetition but it is not as maddening as Mood.
However, the story is less focused and probably less moving. Because there is so little story, it’s awfully hard to tell where the story is going, and therefore, when it’s going to end. You start questioning how much time has gone by. As one woman leaves his life, and things take on an air of finality, you think, surely two hours have passed. You wait for the ending only to discover there’s half an hour left. Nothing really gets resolved, so you could pretty much end almost anywhere in the second hour if you really want to.
2046 is shot by longtime Wong Kar Wai cinematographer Christopher Doyle, who always does excellent work, yet bores me more and more. In this, Mood, and the slightly Wong-Kar-Wai-like yet infinitely more boring Millenium Mambo, Doyle works more and more with a fixed camera and long lenses that flatten the depth of the picture. It makes for lovely compositions but kills any sense of space. Perhaps this is intended, but after awhile it becomes claustrophobic.
I much preferred the Christopher Doyle of Chungking Express and Fallen Angels, with the frantic handheld camera and wide-angle lens. It was rough and messy and relentlessly exciting, full of crashing swooping energy, so that when a scene snapped into stillness and slow motion, it meant something.
For that matter, I liked the Wong Kar Wai of those movies better too. The films were just as dreamy and lonely and sad, but they didn’t seem to take themselves too seriously. The characters were full of bizarre quirks that made sense only because they proclaimed them so matter-of-factly. They were quietly hilarious even as they were desperate and tragic. In Mood and 2046, that goofy sense of fun is practically gone (though, of the two, it's slightly more evident in 2046).
The cinematography and the pacing seem to have grown increasingly mannered. Another word might be monotonous.
Too bad. Those are the only four Wong Kar Wai movies I’ve seen, but I’m aware that Chungking and Angels are anomalies in his canon. They were shot as companion pieces, on comparatively rushed schedules, as a way of recuperating from a more arduous epic film. Perhaps Wong Kar-Wai’s more laborious efforts have always been more languid and less fun.
Compared to your average movie, 2046 is still beautiful and special. But does it have to feel like so much work?