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[FILM] 2046: Desire and Loss in the Curve of a Back

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  • chiayuan25
    Desire and Loss in the Curve of a Back By MANOHLA DARGIS The New York Times Published: August 5, 2005 IN 2046, a story of longing and loss, the passage of
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 5, 2005
      Desire and Loss in the Curve of a Back
      The New York Times
      Published: August 5, 2005

      IN "2046," a story of longing and loss, the passage of time is marked
      not by the hands of a clock, but by the women who pass through one
      man's life. The man in question, a newspaper hack, lives in a
      glorious ruin called the Oriental Hotel, where the thin walls shake
      violently from the sexual exertions of the clientele. A ladies' man
      given to vigorous wall-shaking, the writer turns a blind eye to the
      hotel's decrepitude even as he keeps its female guests fixed in his
      sights. In this ecstatically beautiful film, walls never tumble, only
      women do.

      "2046" is the eighth feature film from the Hong Kong director Wong
      Kar-wai and the long-anticipated follow-up to his 2000 art-house
      favorite, "In the Mood for Love." Like the earlier film, "2046" first
      played at the Cannes Film Festival (in 2004), where it provoked a
      modest scandal. Mr. Wong, who famously works to his own rhythms,
      either very fast or very slow, arrived at Cannes late enough that the
      initial screenings had to be rescheduled. The version shown at Cannes
      was clearly unfinished and, perhaps as a consequence, "2046" was
      wanly received, even by some Wong admirers. More than a year later,
      the special effects are in place, as are crucial images that
      reinforce both the film's themes and its structure. The result is an
      unqualified triumph.

      Set mostly over three years, starting in 1966, "2046" centers on
      Chow, a roué with brilliantined hair and the mustache of a lounge
      lizard, played by Mr. Wong's favorite leading man, Tony Leung Chiu-
      wai. Chow supports himself by writing sexually titillating fiction,
      though only on extreme occasion does he put pen to paper to interrupt
      his usual nightclub trolling. One day, he meets an old flame, Lulu
      (Carina Lau Ka-ling), who is now known as Mimi and lives in the
      Oriental Hotel, in Room 2046. When Chow later returns to her hotel,
      he discovers that Lulu-Mimi has disappeared. He subsequently moves
      into the adjacent room, 2047, whereupon he meets the two women whose
      stories will cast shadows over his own.

      Mr. Wong's films are often described as romantic, doubtless because
      they invariably involve sad-eyed lovers under the spell of impossible
      desires. Born in Shanghai, Mr. Wong moved to Hong Kong with his
      family when he was 5, and that may help explain why he rhapsodizes
      about loss with such tenderness. Even so, this early displacement
      doesn't elucidate why he is less interested in love than in its
      wreckage, in the sighs, tears and agonies that sometimes follow in
      love's wake. One of the first images in "2046" is of the epigram "all
      memories are traces of tears," a bit of throw-pillow sentimentalism
      that might sound ominously maudlin if the tears in Mr. Wong's films
      didn't corrode like acid.

      Soon after Chow moves into the hotel, he meets the owner's oldest
      daughter, Jing (Faye Wong), while she's practicing dance steps and
      Japanese in the temporarily vacant room next door. Jing, whose love
      for a Japanese man (Takuya Kimura) is driving her belligerent father
      to distraction, hovers in the background during the first part of the
      film, much of which involves an affair between Chow and the latest
      occupant of Room 2046. Chow, who intermittently narrates the film,
      first sees his new neighbor, a call girl named Bai Ling (Ziyi Zhang),
      through a grille. The time is September 1967, and months of civil
      unrest in Hong Kong have just ended.

      The affair between Chow and Bai Ling consumes only part of the story
      (a science-fiction allegory that Chow writes constitutes another),
      but Ms. Zhang's shockingly intense performance burns a hole in the
      film that gives everything, including all the other relationships, a
      sense of terrific urgency. The riots that rock Hong Kong, glimpsed in
      battered newsreel images and mentioned in passing, have nothing on
      the emotions that turn this woman's face into a landscape of pain.
      Much of "2046" unfolds in rented rooms and cramped hallways, where
      the characters navigate around one another, the camera trained on
      their faces as if searching for clues. The outside world, by
      contrast, remains as fragmented as an unsolved jigsaw puzzle: a
      street lamp in the rain, a stretch of decayed wall, a nightclub coat

      Although the men and women in "2046" move through tight,
      claustrophobic interiors that are perfect representations of their
      boxed-in interior states, the spaces they inhabit all but shudder
      with luridly bright colors and dizzying geometric patterns that
      suggest an underlying tumult. In one scene, Chow stands almost
      motionless next to the swirling patterned wallpaper of the hotel's
      hallways as he listens outside a locked room to the hotel owner
      berate his older daughter for her affair. Like the opera that the
      father plays at a thunderous volume to hide the noise of the family's
      fights, and like the shimmering, jeweled cheongsams worn by Bai Ling,
      the wallpaper swirls express what the characters themselves cannot:
      their repressed desires, their playfulness and drama.

      Routinely criticized for his weak narratives, Mr. Wong is one of the
      few filmmakers working in commercial cinema who refuse to be enslaved
      by traditional storytelling. He isn't the first and certainly not the
      only one to pry cinema from the grip of classical narrative, to take
      a pickax to the usual three-act architecture (or at least shake the
      foundation), while also dispatching with the art-deadening
      requirements (redemption, closure, ad nauseam) that have turned much
      of Big Hollywood into a creative dead zone. Like some avant-garde
      filmmakers and like his contemporary, Hou Hsiao-hsien of Taiwan,
      among precious few others these days, Mr. Wong makes movies, still a
      young art, that create meaning through visual images, not just words.

      And so in "2046," the wallpaper swirls find a visual echo in the
      curls of a metal grille that, in turn, echo the loops of some cursive
      handwriting, the curlicue of smoke that rises from Jing's lighted
      cigarette and the impossibly long curve of Bai Ling's arched back.
      Mr. Wong fills the frame with these sensuous circles and coils like
      an obsessive doodler. These compulsive repetitions reach an
      apotheosis in the film's most mysterious image: a large cavity that
      looks at once like the amplifying horn of a Victrola and a sexual
      orifice of unknown provenance. Mr. Wong never explains the
      significance of the cavity because, like Kim Novak's blond twist of
      hair in Hitchcock's "Vertigo," the image has a power that renders
      further explanation superfluous.

      Like Hitchcock, Mr. Wong is at once a voyeur and fetishist par
      excellence. No slouch when it comes to men, he lights Mr. Leung and
      Mr. Kimura as if they were MGM stars from the 1930's. His actresses,
      meanwhile, who also include Gong Li and Maggie Cheung Man-yuk, dazzle
      like Olympian goddesses. From the way he photographs the women in
      this film and elsewhere, the director appears particularly fond of
      how the opposite sex looks from the back. One of his signature images
      is of a woman in a figure-hugging dress and requisite high heels
      bending forward ever so slightly and away from the camera. In one of
      the most plaintively lovely moments in "2046," Ms. Wong leans forward
      to whisper a secret while wearing a silvery dress, a posture that
      gives her the aspect of an enormous gleaming teardrop.

      "2046" is awash in such wrenching and charming tears. If everyone in
      this film weeps, including Chow's counterpart - a character in his
      hallucinatory science-fiction story that works as a parallel to his
      own story - it's because everyone is also captive to memory.
      In "2046," memory isn't just a favorite snapshot, a blast from the
      past. It is where everyone lives, whether they want to or not,
      whether giggling in a tawdry Hong Kong hotel in 1967, hurtling
      through the atmosphere on a train in the future or sitting in a
      darkened movie theater. Like film itself, memory freezes time. Memory
      turns finite moments into spaces - a hotel room, say - that we return
      to again and again. It gives us a glimpse of the eternal and, like
      art at its most sublime, like this film, a means for transcendence.

      "2046" is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult
      guardian). The film has some discreet sexual scenes but nothing

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