In keeping with my tradition of writing about Wong Kar Wai films on & around Valentine's Day, I decided to write about his last solid effort. It's a little disappointing how luke-warm he's been in recent years. You've already read my thoughts on the disappointing My Blueberry Nights, and his latest effort wasn’t that great either. Granted, I have not seen the supposedly better directors cut of The Grandmaster - WKW's "ok", yet overrated, embellished story about IP Man (Bruce Lee's teacher/mentor) but I'm highly skeptical that some additional scenes & editing could make it anything better than just "ok". I'm surprised at all the praise it got last year. As I've said before - sometimes we get so caught up in who directed something that we allow it to cloud our true feelings about a film's status. I understand Wong Kar Wai is one of the modern day living legends but it's ok to admit when he does something underwhelming (not bad, just underwhelming). WKW rarely delivers a film that's just above average so people have a hard time accepting that when it really happens (like in the case of The Grandmaster). Prior to My Blueberry Nights his only "ok" movie was As Tears Go By which was his first feature so it gets a pass. Even when he made films in a hurry they turned out great (Chungking Express). But are you guys gonna honestly tell me you weren’t bored or, dare I say, slightly confused at certain plot points in The Grandmaster? I certainly was, and I have no shame in admitting that. I used to think 2046 was without any fault simply because it was directed by a modern legend. I was so caught up in the mystique of having a WKW film released in my adult life that I'd deemed 2046 a classic before I saw it. But a couple of years ago I came to the realization that it could have used some SERIOUS editing. It's like towards the last 20-30 minutes WKW turned in to Peter Jackson and just refused to end the movie. It kept going & going.
But putting that bit of criticism aside, 2046 is still a really good film. Not since Days Of Being Wild (1991) had Wong Kar Wai centered a story around an asshole antihero. Furthermore, we never saw Tony Leung play that kind of a role under the direction of Wong Kar Wai. Since the beginning of their 2+ decade long relationship we saw Leung get dumped by his girlfriends (Chunking Express), taken advantage of by his boyfriend (Happy Together) and cheated on by his wife (In The Mood For Love). No matter how cool he came off in every on of those films, he was still the quintessential art house sap. 2046 was his turn to be the asshole.
This was also the last collaboration between WKW and his regular cinematographer; Christopher Doyle. Much like how Hal Hartley stopped working with Martin Donovan, or Wim Wenders stopped working with Robby Muller or Scorsese & Deniro, WKW's work hasnt been the same since the departure of Doyle.
2046 is the final film in WKW's unofficial trilogy along with Days Of Being Wild & In The Mood For Love ("2046" being a reference to a hotel room # from In The Mood For Love). In the film we follow Chow (Tony Leung) after the events of In The Mood For Love. After being cheated on by his wife and never consummating a relation with Su (Maggie Cheung), Chow becomes a science fiction writer/world traveler/playboy (he's made an unofficial pact to live his life as a player and to never fall in love again). Instead of being the loyal/faithful husband we knew him as in In The Mood For Love, he now goes to bed with a different woman almost every night. But It's more than obvious that this new extra masculine version of Chow we see in 2046 is a front. He puts up this cool unfazed facade, but in reality he's still hurting from past relationships. The 2046 Chow may be somewhat different than the average sensitive leading man that we're used to in a Wong Kar Wai film, but that element of sensitivity & vulnerability (which we seldom see in leading men in cinema) is still there.
Because 2046 & In The Mood For Love are so deeply connected with each other more than any other combination of WKW's films, he reuses a lot of similar shots throughout…
|2046 / In The Mood For Love|
|2046 / In The Mood For Love|
|2046 / In The Mood For Love|
The problem with Chow's past that WKW creates is that it feels like there's a whole entire movie we missed between In The Mood For Love & 2046. Wong just kind of breezes through Chow's past and in certain points in 2046 there's flashbacks or references to things that we aren’t in on. Basically, 2046 becomes a little too familiar at times and assumes we know what’s going on. I also didn’t like that Maggie Cheung’s Su only appears in the film through archival footage from In The Mood For Love. That part of the film felt very cut & paste.
2046 doesn’t exactly have a happy ending, but there's still plenty of romance, love & sensuality in almost every frame of the film (even parts that were a little boring). If you have the patience and understand that certain parts of this film lingers on when it doesn’t have to, this is a nice alternative to the average romantic comedies & love stories that people are drawn too on this day.
2046 isn’t so much the end of a saga but rather it brings the story of Chow full circle as it ties in to the first film within the trilogy. There’s a moment at the end of Days Of Being Wild where an unnamed character, played By Tony Leung, is preparing to go out for the night. Some might say this is the best part of the film even though it comes out of nowhere and really has nothing to do with the rest of story in Days Of Being Wild. Prior to the release of 2046, that moment had a lot of mystery and mystique to it. But once you watch Tony Leung in 2046 and think back on that infamous scene at the end of Days Of Being Wild, you can’t help but wonder if it's supposed to be a random moment from Chow's life following the events of In The Mood For Love. In reality, Days Of Being Wild was supposed to have a separate story starring Tony Leung but almost all of it was cut minus that final scene. But if you ignore that bit of factual information, it's nice to pretend that Wong Kar Wai was ahead of his time and had his loose trilogy all planned out years in advance...