(Above: Ziyi Zhang)
Hong Kong master explores the future via the past
Wong Kar Wai’s 2046 is almost a modern master’s take on the sci-fi epic. The director delivers on the epic part to be sure but, sadly, goes a little light on the sci-fi. The film is primarily set in 1960s Hong Kong, a land of burgeoning black-market capitalism and bossa-nova flophouse chic. Newspaper journalist and general gad-about Chow Mo Wan (Tony Leung, east Asia’s postmodern Clark Gable) has written a sci-fi exploitation novel, 2046, an allusion to the hotel room number where he last left his married lover (a briefly glimpsed Maggie Cheung). Wong actually chose the date 2046 for its real-world historical significance—it’s the year China’s hands-off approach to newly reacquired Hong Kong officially expires—and the movie is artfully infused with the melancholy dread this might imply. It’s a Wong signature to be sure, but that’s the problem: He has mined—and perfected—this territory before, most notably with In the Mood for Love, also featuring the dynamic duo of Cheung and Leung. 2046 only really takes off when the director applies his gauzy style to a brief interlude in the reality of Chow’s novel, when we’re finally given the sci-fi goods, complete with “delayed-reaction” androids and fashions worthy of a Gaultier show circa the end of the world. Maybe Wong’s cursory treatment of such a futuristic setting betrays his contempt for genre filmmaking. If so, it’s a shame. His picture of the future is simultaneously kitschy and emotionally devastating. It’s an effect as impossible to replicate as gossamer Mylar, and it’s worthy of the master he is.