Review: 2046 (2004)

Directed and written by Wong Kar Wai.


Tony Leung Chiu Wai: Chow Mo Wan
Gong Li: Su Li Zhen
Takuya Kimura : 2046 Tak (and Faye Wong's 1967 Japanese beau)
Faye Wong: Android Wang Jing Wen and Wang Jing Wen in 1967
Ziyi Zhang: Bai Ling
Carina Lau: Lulu/Mimi
Chen Chang: cc1966
Wang Sum: Mr. Wang/Train Captain
Maggie Cheung: Su Li Zhen in 1960

Official synopsis

He was a writer, He thought he wrote about the future but it really was the past. In his novel, a mysterious train left for 2046 every once in a while. Everyone who went there had the same intention ... to recapture their lost memories. It was said that in 2046, nothing ever changed. Nobody knew for sure if it was true, because nobody who went there had ever come back - except for one. He was there. He chose to leave. He wanted to change.

Warning: Spoilers ahead both in the text and the images. Also, I am a big fan of Faye Wong and Takuya Kimura so the review is slanted in their direction. The images are large! Click on the images to hear the sounds.

My review

This is a beautiful movie. I don't understand it - but that's all right. I don't need to understand a movie to love it and appreciate its beauty. The majority of my Hong Kong friends (with the exception of P, Donna and Kevin) all hated this movie - it doesn't make sense, it's confusing. It's true that in his typical style, Wong Kar Wai does not hand things to his viewers on a platter. Quite the contrary, he enshrouds it in mystery and obscurity.

We can try and walk through the storyline. The movie opens onto a futuristic world filled with activity - grim music plays in the background and a voice starts to narrate in Japanese.

Phenomenally popular Japanese actor Takuya Kimura describes 2046 in a deep expressive voice. Tousled and grungy, he has a bandaged hand and he lets us know that no one who goes to 2046 ever returns. His name is Tak and we don't know who he is although I have read in some articles that he is a hit man.

In the year 2046, every railway network spans the globe. A mysterious train leaves for 2046 every once in a while. Every passenger who goes to 2046 has the same intention. They want to recapture lost memories - because nothing ever changes in 2046. Nobody really knows if it's true because nobody has ever come back. Except me.

If someone wants to leave 2046 - how long will it take? Some people get away very easily. Others find that it takes them much longer.

I forget how long I've been on this train. I start to feel very lonely.

The train operator looks at Tak inquiringly. "As I recall many have gone to 2046, you're the first to come back....may I ask why you left 2046?"

Whenever anyone asks me why I left 2046 I give them some vague answer. Before .... when people had a secret they did not want to share, the would climb a mountain. They would find a tree and carve a hole into it. And whisper the secret into the hole, then cover it over with mud. That way, nobody else would ever discover it.

I once fell in love with someone ... After a while she wasn't there. I went to 2046 . I thought she might be waiting for me there. But I couldn't find her. I can't stop wondering if she loved me or not. But I never found out. Maybe her answer was like a secret ..... that no one else would ever know.

The screen then flashes black.

"All memories are traces of tears".

We then flash to "reality" of sorts. A writer in Singapore earns money by gambling - but he's not very good at it. His name is Chow Mo-Wan (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai). A mysterious woman named Su Li-Zhen (played by previous Zhang Yi Mou darling Gong Li) who always wears black (down to her gloves) enters his life and awakens previously lost memories of a time he spent with a married woman - also named Su Li-Zhen (Maggie Cheung). Confusing? You bet. Su Li-Zhen, also known as the Black Spider helps the writer to win enough money to buy a ticket to return to Hong Kong.

Although he asks her to accompany him, the Black Spider turns him down and Chow returns to Hong Kong alone. On Christmas Eve, he encounters Lu Lu (Carina Lau Kar-ling), another woman from his past (Days of Being Wild) who appears to have no memory of him.

When Chow visits Lu Lu in her hotel room, he sees that the number on the door is 2046 - yet again evoking memories of the days he spent with Su Li-Zhen - also in a room 2046. LuLu is found brutally murdered in her room by her violent boyfriend - in a brief role by Chang Chen who my friends all think is sexy, but I think his eyes are rather small and beady. Keep an ear out for the hauntingly beautiful version of "Perfidia" that you hear when Lu Lu comes on the screen - it is almost eerily evocative of a bygone era. It is also a reference to the use of the same music in "Days of Being Wild", and the "Legless Bird" for which Lulu searches in vain is Leslie Cheung's character from "Days of Being Wild".

He moves into Room 2047 and starts life as a free-lance writer. The hotel owner (Wang Sum) speaks to him in Mandarin while Chow replies in Cantonese has two recalcitrant daughters. The first is the oversexed, under aged Wang Jie Wen (Dong Jie) whom we see only briefly before she runs off with her boyfriend. The second is Wang Jing Wen (played by the adorable and incredibly talented Faye Wong).

We are permitted to see Jing Wen's first encounter with her (to be) Japanese boyfriend, a young man in Hong Kong on business (played by a brill-creamed, solemn-eyed Kimura Takuya).

He looks almost impossibly cute in this scene. He asks her for directions in Japanese and she replies animatedly and enthusiastically in Cantonese, clearly confusing him but making him laugh nonetheless.

Although we do not see the development, the two fall in love. The relationship is fiercely opposed by her father who (like many Chinese) loathes the Japanese and cannot understand why out of all the people in the world, she had to choose a Japanese man.

The scenes with Faye Wong and Kimura Takuya were my favourite even before I knew who the delectable Kimura was.

Beautifully shot, Faye Wong looks painfully thin but wonderfully tragic with her pale skin and huge dark eyes, downcast in sorrow.

Kimura stands before her, also filled with pain - asking if she will go to Japan with him, does she care for him? The questions are asked with a painfully rueful and uncertain half smile.

"Can you tell me what you feel? Do you like me?" He grimaces. "Or not?" In the Chinese subtitles he asks her if she dislikes / hates / does not like him (討厭). "妳可以告訴我妳的感覺嗎?喜歡我嗎?討厭 我?" Thanks so much to the wonderful Grace who has confirmed that the Japanese is identical to the Chinese. The only thing we are not sure about is exactly what he means by 討厭!!!

Faye doesn't respond but merely stares at him.

"I'm scared to hear your answer." He smiles ruefully. "But I have to ask anyway." He is silent for a long moment. "Leave with me." he entreats her.

In Chinese he says: "雖然我不知道妳怎麼樣回答, 我不得不問個清楚。妳願意不願意跟我走?" (Even though I don't know how you are going to answer, I have to ask you - are you willing to leave with me).

His eyes shine with unshed tears as he stares at her silent face.

Unfortunately, although Wang Jing Wen clearly feels a great deal, she does not speak - whether unable to speak or unwilling to speak we do not really know. [Donna has also jokingly reminded me that Faye's character can't speak Japanese at this point in time and Kimura's can't speak Cantonese so it's possible she's not answering because she doesn't understand him!].

Finally, Kimura's character steps back from her, taking the silence as a denial of love. He is clearly devastated.

"Sayonara." he says, walking away from her abruptly. Upset and angry - leaving a heart-broken Wang Jing Wen staring after him ....

After that, a haunted Wang Jing Wen lingers in the now empty room 2046, talking to herself in Japanese - saying all the words that she wanted to say to her sweetheart at the time but for some reason she was unable to say at the time:

Good! Sure! Go! Let's go! Let's go! I'll go with you! Good. I'll go with you! Sure! I understand! You know what I mean? I know .. I understand .... I got it! Can I go? I can go. Sure. I understand. Got it! Sure! Definitely! I'm definitely going! Okay, let's go!

She recites the above over and over, her sad eyes staring at a place and a time far, far away.

Wong Kar Wai shoots footage of a solitary Faye smoking on a cigarette, her dark eyes filled with pain, Faye standing on the roof staring out at the sky while Casta Diva plays in the background. Through all of this, Chow is watching on in a somewhat voyeuristic fashion, noting everything.

Chow has always wondered about the loud music being played by his landlord, but one day as he passes by the rooms and hears fierce shouting by the landlord he realises that the music is used in a vain attempt to drown out the sounds of shouting.

He passes by the room and sees a silent, solitary and sad-eyed Kimura sitting in a room as he can hear the landlord screaming at his daughter, demanding to know why the Japanese man has returned. "Hasn't he left already? Why is he back? I will not see him. If you won't give him up. Get out! Go away with him!" Kimura sits there alone, looking very proper in a business suit.

After he leaves for the second time, the tragically fragile Wang Jing Wen is not seen for a little while as she is hospitalised.

A new tenant named Bai Ling (Zhang Ziyi) moves into 2046. She appears to be a prostitute of sorts, and sexy and impossibly lovely, Chow and Bai Ling enter into a relationship.

Initially, it is almost as if Chow is determined to keep it as business, insisting on paying Bai Ling for her services despite the look of pain which flashes across Zhang Ziyi's expressive face the first time he offers her money.

The relationship between the two is purely physical from Chow's perspective but it is clear that Bai Ling develops genuine feelings for him - so much so that she wants to sleep with him for no money. The love scenes between these two are quite frank and emotionally explicit. They were somewhat startling.

I've mentioned before though that Tony Leung is better when he stares longingly - he is a really bad onscreen kisser who looks like he is trying to emulate a vacuum cleaner and suck the life out of his leading ladies a la Harry Potter Dementors. It is a definite mood breaker to watch Tony Leung kissing onscreen!!! Shallow of me I know. Back to the movie. It is not clear whether Chow eventually begins to feel anything for her and whether this is why he pushes her out of his life but the relationship between the two ends. Is this because Chow's heart cannot be given to anyone because long ago (in 1960) he gave it to the first Su Li-Zhen (Maggie Cheung)? We really never know .....

We encounter Wang Jing Wen again when she returns from her hospitalisation. After hearing her father screaming at her for sending and receiving letters from her Japanese lover and seeing the father tear a letter to shreds, Chow offers to be the go-between for them. This causes a perceptible happiness in Wang Jing Wen as Chow receives letters from Japan and secretly passes them to Wang Jing Wen. Similarly, she passes letters to him for him to post.

I am not sure if this means that by this time Wang Jing Wen has become fluent in Japanese or her boyfriend has become fluent in Chinese. Then again, this is a Wong Kar Wai movie - perhaps they communicate through ambient music and smoke signals puffed from aesthetically artistically smoked cigarettes ..... The letters are impossibly romantic. Even if you can't understand Japanese, Kimura's reading of the letter is wonderful. In the background, the music is "Adagio" by Secret Garden. I consider it the theme of Faye and Kimura in this movie.

"Let's see each other again. Then if you still think we shouldn't be together ... tell me so .... frankly....The day, six years ago ... a rainbow appeared in my heart, It's still there. Like a flame burning inside me. But what are your real feelings for me? Are they like a rainbow after the rain? Or ... did that rainbow fade away long ago? I'm waiting for your answer ...."

In Chinese, the translation is: 讓我們再見一面吧。在見面時, 如果仍然覺得我們之間是個錯誤, 請你坦白告訴我。六年前的那一天, 我心中突然出現了一道美麗輕柔的彩虹。它一直不曾消失, 像一道火燄的橋燃燒著我的心。你對我到底有什?感覺?像雨后天空的彩虹嗎?還是彩虹在許久以前已經消失?我在等妳的答案。

Wang Jing Wen asks him about his writing and asks him to read her scribblings. He does so and is so impressed with her talent that he asks her to be his assistant. She enters the role with gusto, assisting him in writing his rather pulp fiction.

The Spider Saga thrusts out his right fist! Two chopsticks take off like rockets!!! They land with explosive force. Kaboom! The mountain splits apart”. Chow is lying in bed, dictating while a thermometer is in his mouth.

Nearby, Jing Wen is scribbling furiously, trying to write down everything Chow says to her.

Slow down, I can’t keep up.” she tells him.

Come on, they’re waiting for it.” he calls to her.

All right…..” she mutters.

Caught up?”

Go on.” she tells him.

Where was I?

The mountain splits apart …” she reads to him.

Right … The mountain splits apart ……” he thinks for a moment. “....smashing Iron Abacus to the ground!!!!”

She pauses in her transcription. “Iron Abacus? Isn’t he dead?” she demands.

Is he?” Chow asks, clearly not remembering. He considers the problem for a problem. “OK, then make it Iron Head.”

Jing Wen looks baffled. “Where did Iron Head come from all of a sudden???

Hey, anything goes in martial arts (武俠wu xia) novels.” he tells her.

Click to hear the dialogue in the original Cantonese - it is hilarious.

He says, even though she is "only a girl" she writes well.

Chow starts to fall in love with Wang Jing Wen although her heart clearly remains with lover far away in Japan. Does this mean that the reason Chow is not able to love Bai Ling is nothing to do with Su Li-Zhen or is it the case that he is only capable of loving people he cannot have? Again, we never really find this out.

Inspired by Jing Wen, Chow writes a new story which he calls 2047 - notionally about Jing Wen and her boyfriend. The thing is, as the story progresses, Chow puts himself into the story and Tak (the young Japanese passenger) becomes an idealised version of Chow himself.

In the story, a train departs for 2046 and people who board the train are able to retain their lost memories. According to the narration, no one has ever wanted to leave 2046 except for Tak (Kimura Takuya) who has fallen in love with an android - also played by Faye Wong.

The love scenes between these two are very subtle and extremely romantic and erotic. They are a sharp contrast to the love scenes between Bai Ling and Chow and the penultimate kissing scene between Chow and the Black Spider. Wong Kar Wai shoots these scenes slowly and caressingly.

Tak and WJW2046 touch, kiss and caress in a very convincing fashion and Faye Wong portrays WJW2046 with a touching combination of vacantness touched with genuine feeling and loss. The scenes where you see WJW2046 leaning down and looking through a hole - gramophone? - are also exquisitely shot.

As the android bandages his wounds, Tak speaks to her. She asks him why he is leaving 2046.....

I found out only after the movie that some say that 2046 is a sequel to "In The Mood For Love". I am not sure - although there are certainly references to the fact that one should whisper a secret into a hole etc.... Hence the images below where Faye makes her fingers into a "hole" into which Tak can whisper his secrets .....

As with the 1967 storyline, each time Tak asks WJW2046 to leave with him, her answer is always a slow, profound silence which causes pain in Tak's eyes as he stares into the exquisite but vacantly unresponsive face of his "true love".

Carina Lau also plays an android onboard the train - presumably as Lulu is one of Chow's past loves, so therefore she has a part in this story.

Chow / Tak attempts to find excuses for why Faye is not able to respond to him. One reason is that over time, the functions and response time of the train androids deteriorates. Response-time slows down to a halt and tears and laughter may take place much later after the actual trigger event. You can't quite see it in these photos - but Faye has a silvery tear trickling down her cheek ...

Chow/Tak imagines that notwithstanding the fact that she is an android, Faye's character has true feelings for Tak. However, she does not reply to him..............

"Leave with me". I kept on asking but she never answered. I began dreaming up excuses for her silence. I slowly began to doubt myself. The reason she didn't answer ... was not simply that her reactions were delayed. It's simply that she didn't love me. So at last I got it. It's entirely beyond my control. The only thing to do was to give up.

Kimura is so good in these scenes. Impossibly tragic and sad.

The scene is a mirror of 1967 ......... although he doesn't say "Sayonara" in 2046 .....

One of my favourite scenes is where Chow takes Wang Jing Wen to his office on Christmas eve and lets her use his office phone to call her sweetheart in Japan. We can't hear the conversation, but we see Faye's wide-eyed laughing face, hear her chattering adorably in Cantonese as she struggles to distinguish her love's voice over the bad international phone line.

From a distance, Chow is watching as always, his eyes somewhat sad and wistful as he sees Wang Jing Wen's patent happiness.

In 2046, Leung is at his best when he is with Faye for he is at his most selfless and caring. How could he help but be this, for the haunting Wang Jing Wen is as alluring as she is intelligent. Wong Kar Wai films Faye beautifully .... Chow says: 我們相處得好愉快。 那個夏天是我有生以來最開心的一個, 可惜太短了 (That was my happiest summer ever, but it didn't last / it was too short).

It's after this that Tak / Chow comes to the real reason why Jing Wen / JW2046 does not reply. It has nothing to do with slow response time.

She is already in love with someone else .......... I finally realised, the reason the android didn't answer ... had nothing to do with her mechanism wearing out. Nor that she didn't like him. More likely, she already loved someone else. (她已經有心所屬)

Soon after that, she went to Japan. I gave her a copy of my story 2047, I hope she read it.

Chow concludes: Love is all a matter of timing, it's no good meeting the right person too soon or too late ....If I'd lived in another time or place, my story might have had a very different ending. Chow stands on the roof, Casta Diva is playing in the background ...

We then receive a fabulously alluring parting glance from Faye.....

For Wang Jing Wen and her Japanese lover there is a happy ending. Chow is shocked when he discovers that Wang Jing Wen has left for Japan to marry her lover and in a startling about-face, her father is also going to attend the wedding - finally accepting the inevitable. Chow's landlord says that Wang Jing Wen very much liked 2047 but found the ending too sad - would it be possible to change it? Chow still looks quite startled at the news - his smile of congratulations is tempered with his own regret and sorrow.

My memory is a little fuzzy about the next part, I have a recollection of another encounter with Bai Ling and a flashback to a vacuum cleaner face sucking moment with the Black Spider. There is a definite suggestion that his relationship with Su Li-Zhen (Maggie Cheung) has had a permanently damaging impact on his life.

The movie is beautiful to look at and hear. Strange images are used which flash across the screen, leaving the view pondering their meaning. We see a tragic Lu Lu being killed by her lover - both in 1967 and in 2046 while a voyeuristic Chow/jealous boyfriend played by Chang Chen looks on through a hole in the ceiling. We see Maggie Cheung lying on a bed ..... In a scene where Bai Ling and Chow are riding in the backseat of a car, he puts is hand on her thigh in a familiar fashion, she moves it away and we see the same scene duplicated except that this time it's Su Li-Zhen (Maggie Cheung).

Again, I do now know what this movie is trying to say or what the message is - all I know is that it is a beautifully visual and sensory experience which tantalises and lingers. I also love the multi-lingual nature of it. Zhangzi Yi, Gong Li and the landlord speak Mandarin, Faye Wong and Tony Leung speak Cantonese and Takuya Kimura speaks Japanese. One thing that struck me when I was doing screen caps from the dvd - every single scene is a beautiful picture. In many movies, when you do a screen cap, you get a scene of nothing, but with this movie, even when nothing is happening, it is like a postcard. It's really quite extraordinary. If you are into comparisons, I liked it better than In the Mood for Love but not quite as much as Chungking Express which remains one of my favourite movies of all time.

9.5 out of 10

Bits from the Making of Documentary on DVD (lots of pictures)

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