Hutch’s review published on Letterboxd:
Wong Kar-wai’s follow up to In The Mood For Love and Days of Being Wild is more of the same and yet very different again. This time the predominant greens of Days and the reds of Mood are brought together with every colour of the rainbow in an exhilarating and often shifting kaleidoscope. There’s still the torrential rain, and the camera’s slow-motion gaze, curving across the outline of a body; and there’s the return of musical themes, and of characters too.
Chief among them is Chow Mo-Wan (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai), now four years after his chaste love affair with Su Li-Zhen, and paying heavily for the weight of those memories. He’s still handsome, charming (when he wants to be), and trying to make ends meet with his pot-boiler fiction; but the hole in his heart has grown, and in its place he is filling it with women. Gone is the noble restraint he showed with Su Li-Zhen. Now he is a collector of sexual experiences, as if desperately trying to make up for what he missed before. But like his words, it’s all just a fiction - a cheap knock off edition of the feelings he craves. In a sense, he has become Yuddy from Days, a young man unable to commit to another woman because the woman he yearned for would not commit to him.
Looking across the span of the trilogy, Wong shows how emotional harm takes root and radiates out like a weed over time, ensnaring lives and strangling love. Yuddy was abandoned by his birth mother, leaving him bereft and stoking a cruel misogyny. He mistreated Su Li-Zhen, and she, in turn, raced into an unhappy marriage, trapping her in society’s rules, and frightening her away from following her heart with Chow Mo-Wan - and breaking both of theirs in the process. And now Chow Mo-Wan, with his heart continuing to bleed, doesn’t have the means to move on. He’s substituted the feeling of love with the motion of sex. And where before it was the feeling of love that crept up on him, now it’s the accumulation of events - of meaningless encounters - that are spilling over and leaving him to reflect on his loneliness.
2046 projects memories into the future. Chow Mo-Wan attempts to bring them back to life through the form of the science fiction novel he is writing. Like the secrets he once whispered into a hole in a wall, in 2046 secrets are everywhere, whispered into trees, peeked at through lattice, and buried deep within fiction. And there’s a sense that he is trapped by these secrets. Much like the character in his cheap novel who struggles to come back from 2046 when he realises the woman he craves isn’t there, Chow Mo-Wan can’t move on from his own experiences of room 2046. Is there a more plaintive phrase than “I once fell in love with someone. After a while, she wasn’t there”?
Wong’s films are always notable for their music, and 2046 is no different. Here he extends his musical palate, deploying a wider range of themes than he normally does, and using them to emotionally colour his different characters and their moods. The way the music supports them through their love sick arias gives the film a distinctly operatic feel. Mood memorably featured a borrowed score by Shigeru Umebayashi, but here the composer is fully on board with an original score, which lends the film a heavy melancholic tug. But there’s a choice selection of other tracks, including pieces by Zbigniew Preisner (including Decision from A Short Film About Killing - how’s that for repurposing?), and the sad aria Casta Diva from Bellini’s opera Norma. There is also the very welcome reprise of Xavier Cugat’s wonderful Perfidia from Days to support the return of Carina Lau’s character, joined now by his equally infectious Siboney.
Ultimately, it’s a drop-dead gorgeous film, popping with colour and flooded with music. But next to Days and especially Mood, I feel like I’m missing something. I can’t quite reach and touch the emotion that is there in plain sight. I understand why Chow Mo-Wan has become a bit of a dick, but I don’t empathise with him, and I like him less for the turn he has taken after his role in Mood. I’d be fine with that if I could get inside his troubles, but I still feel removed from entering the vivid and heady emotions that I can see. This is my second watch, and I think I might need another before I can get off the fence on this one.