What's Wong with this picture?
Wong Kar Wai's "2046" is a sincere melodrama made up of preposterous conversations but also lush images and, just occasionally, moments of profundity.
By JOSHUA TANZER
"Did you get it?" Guy 1 asked Guy 2 in the men's room after seeing "2046."
"Yeah ...," said Guy 2. "I think so. ... Maybe."
|Written and directed by: Wong Kar Wai.|
Cast: Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Gong Li, Kimura Takuya, Faye Wong, Zhang Ziyi, Carina Lau, Chang Chen, Sum Wang, Siu Ping Lam, Maggie Cheung, Thongchai McIntyre, Dong Jie, Ng Ting Yip.
Cinematography: Christopher Doyle, Kwan Pung-Leung, Lai Yiu-Fai.
Edited by: William Chang Suk Ping.
In Cantonese, Mandarin Chinese and Japanese with English subtitles.
Related links: Official site
There's either a lot to get or not much to get in Wong Kar Wai's latest, an update of his 1991 film "Days of Being Wild." It's another of his beautifully crafted, emotionally obtuse elegies to human relationships starring Tony Leung ("In the Mood for Love") as well as, if a cinematographer can be the "star" of a movie, Christopher Doyle ("Hero"). It isn't a very satisfying movie, with its cryptic characters and reedy plot, but it's pretty as ever to look at and it has moments of what might be profundity. ... I think. ... Maybe.
The first thing you might or might not get is that there are three languages spoken in the movie Cantonese, Mandarin and Japanese and rarely are two people in the same conversation speaking the same language. The actors gamely pretend the dialogue isn't going right over their heads, but it's almost as if an American movie had characters who are spoken to in Dutch and answer in Swahili. If you can tell one language from another, the whole movie becomes a weird farce instead of a super-sincere melodrama.
(Toward the end, I think I figured out why this was happening. In Asia, it wouldn't be unusual to dub one dialect over another in a movie, so a Hong Kong audience would hear all-Cantonese, a mainland audience would hear all-Mandarin, and a Japanese audience would hear, um, whatever. Bringing the movie to the U.S., there was no reason to dub any of the languages, so we get a raucously absurd version that makes much less sense than it did in the home country.)
Leung plays a writer named Chow who's haunted by a past love, whom he left years before at an endearingly seedy hotel (the "O Hotel," and you can let "O" stand for whatever you like). Returning to the hotel, he takes room 2047, right next to the fateful room 2046, which is temporarily unavailable. We revisit our writer friend every Christmas Eve, and every now and then he has a different neighbor. One is the owner's daughter (dad speaks to her in Mandarin and she answers in Cantonese) who has a forbidden Japanese boyfriend (she answers his Japanese with Cantonese too).
When she pursues her man abroad (to Japan, where they probably converse in Hindi), she's replaced by the willowy Bai Ling (Zhang Ziyi of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"). Chow and Bai decide to be "drinking buddies," which means that in addition to drinking they launch into a steamy but non-exclusive friends-with-benefits situation and the benefits include an exchange of cash, though it's not clear whether Bai is normally that kind of girl.
This could turn into something serious, but only if the two of them quit their game of who can appear to take whom less seriously. In true Wong Kar Wai fashion, the would-be lovers push apart as much as fate pulls them together. Many times, it seems that Wong has an aesthetic preference for frustration rather than what might normally be human nature.
And that extends to the audience as well as the characters. It's frustrating to watch things not happen and people not talk about them. (There were quite a few walk-outs during the film people who chose not to stick it out so they could talk it over in the restroom afterwards.) But the film has at least a few scenes that strike a chord.
One that stood out to me was related to an ancient tradition that we hear about repeatedly. As it's retold several times in the movie: "Do you know what people did in the old days when they had a secret? They would climb a mountain and find a tree. They would carve a hole in the tree and whisper the secret into the hole, which they would pack with mud so no one would ever hear it."
The secret in this movie is surely one about love evanescent. The first time we hear the tree story, we see a large sculpture that could resemble a hole carved in a giant circle of wood. Soon, there's a woman's shapely body in front of the hole, her unseen face in a position to whisper secrets into it.
Later, Chow tells about a science-fiction story he's written called "2047." The main character represents the writer himself, riding a train through time to the year 2046, and a beautiful "attendant" (Maggie Cheung) is sent to satisfy his "intimate" wishes. When he tells her the story about the hole in the tree, she makes a circle with her fingers and invites him to whisper his secret into it. As his lips approach, she moves her fingers from point to point, finally settling in front of her lips, allowing the two to kiss. The tree is no tree it's the human body and the hole is any of the holes of the body. Sharing our bodies becomes a way of whispering our secrets into each other. And maybe this explains what the story of "2046" is all about people whose desperate encounters with love and desire were ways of trying to pour their secret inner selves out through their physical outer selves.
Wong's film whispers its secrets through holes in the narrative. It's not a movie you would necessarily watch for a clear-headed story it's a collection of pictures and moments. Wong and Doyle pay meticulous attention to colors and backgrounds and light, resulting in what might be thought of as more a photographer's movie than a writer-director's or actor's movie. But amid the sparsity of characterization and plot are secreted some genuine thoughts and emotions, ethereally evoked for those in the mood to "get" them.
|AUGUST 15, 2005|
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