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Movie Review: 2046 – Desperately Seeking Maggie

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Desperately Seeking Maggie

A Film Review by a once avid but now dying fan of WKW.

Wong Kar Wai’s raison d’etre for making films is unmistakably grounded in auteurism. 2046 is a pastiche of disembodied cinema and raises the most references from his past auteurship. As we dissect the clandestine numerical meaning which turns out to be a title of the protagonist’s feature novel, Wong shuffles us back and forth to Days of Being Wild whilst setting us In The Mood For Love through subtle references. The double entendre of the title in fact refers to the last year of China’s no change policy for Hong Kong as gleaned from the director’s interview with The Guardian, as well as the room number of the hotel where the protagonist, Chow Mo Wan (Tony Leung) met his old lover, Su Li Zhen, a.k.a slz 1960 (Maggie Cheung). Apparently and unfortunately, we also see a ‘no change policy’ in Wong’s auteurship as yet.

The story left off from where In The Mood For Love ends as we follow Chow Mo Wan’s solitary foray into pseudo self gratifications, ironically to substitute the irreplaceable Su Li Zhen 1960 (Maggie Cheung). The film starts from the ‘abysmal hole’ of gramophone, suggesting a whole load of secrets awaiting for us to uncover (or not?) and leads us into the film characters’ kaleidoscopic storage of memories. Takuya Kimura’s sensual introductory narration expounds the theory behind 2046, a place where time stands still and memories afloat, untainted…

In Singapore, Chow Mo Wan meets Su Li Zhen No. 2, played by Gong Li, a mysterious professional gambler with a perpetual black glove, who helps him win his traveling fare back to Hong Kong. Alas, the authoritarian gambling figure is not even a pale copy of the original Su Li Zhen, and the character’s short screen time is only a fragment of Chow Mo Wan’s many passing vessels in his new fleeting life. Back in Hong Kong, Chow meets Lu Lu (carina Lau), a notable reference character from Days of Being Wild who pretends to forget Chow. One could see the director paying homage to the late Leslie Cheung by having Chow rekindling Lu Lu’s memories of her old lover (played by Leslie Cheung from Days of Being Wild) and how they met each other. Drunk and heart broken once again from the memories, Chow escorts Lu Lu back to her Oriental Hotel apartment, room 2046. A few days later, her drummer boyfriend (Chang Chen) stabs her and she exits 2046. This leaves room for Chow to move in and relieve his own nostalgia with Su Li Zhen but the manager, Mr Wang, offers him the adjacent room, as he needs to refurbish the ‘jinxed’ 2046. He reluctantly settles for 2047.

The new occupant of the newly refurbished room 2046 is a prostitute, Bai Ling (Zhang Ziyi), who has the most screen time among the actresses in the movie. An introduction with the rhythmic bed creaking, flirting phone conversations, flashing cheong sams and coquettish furs showcase Bai Ling as a confident and promiscuous beauty but she would eventually dwindle to one of Chow’s spurned lovers.

Next comes in Wang Jing Wen, the hotel manager’s daughter, played by Faye Wong, the epitome of elusiveness. She falls in love with a Japanese, Tak (Takuya Kimura) but the vehement objection from his father splits the lovers apart. She too relieves her memory in room 2046 and trivializes her guilt of not following Tak by regurgitating a mouthful of Japanese, mostly positive answer phrases that she should have said at the time when Tak asks her to leave. Chow later discovers Wang to be his prodigy writer because she has the flair for writing – even outdoing him in erotic novels. They began to develop the most unlikely partnership, while Chow is sick, Wang would ghost in for him to meet the deadlines. Eventually, Chow encourages Wang to seek her true love…at the same time developing interest for Wang.

Knowing that Wang’s love roots in the oriental Japan, Chow gives up and in catharsis, starts to write a novel titled 2046. This is where the futuristic scenes set in. Tak, the Japanese travels to 2046, a place where time and memories stand still, a paradise to soak in and no one ever comes back but he did. On the train ride back to reality, he meets robot stewardesses such as – Lu Lu and his lover, Wang Jing Wen. The line between reality and fiction blurs in the futuristic segments but it is really, only Chow’s cathartically fabricated world where he would drown his frustrations, thus many imageries are open for personal interpretations.

Wong Kar Wai’s signature semiotics in his strong visuals stay firm, this time with more claustrophobic mis-en-scènes and he continues to dwell on post-modern themes as well as diurnal human contacts. Christopher Doyle’s cinematography perpetually flushes our sight with sophisticated lighting, colour filters and textures while William Chang’s set designs transform 60’s impoverished bedrooms and corridors into a timeless world, exuding theatrical beauty.

But just what is missing?

Perhaps it is truly slz 1960. One cannot deny but acknowledge the fact that Maggie Cheung’s mere seconds of screen presence is enough to burn through the entire projector screen! It is truly the right decision to strip off her screen time down to a few seconds and for an actress with such enigmatic calibre like Maggie herself – she only needs a few seconds to expound her character’s importance and holy presence amidst all the promiscuity and gloomy atmosphere. Wong Kar Wai exhorts Su Li Zhen 1960 into a perfect goddess where her love for Chow Mo Wan could never be replaced, she becomes a myth, a legend and when we see her, we see hope… even for the few seconds. Perhaps only with Maggie’s poise and performance, could this magic be achieved.

As the years pass by and political climates changing, Chow Mo Wan transforms into the oriental Clark Gable, perpetually giving the ‘frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn’ look, the only constant is slz 1960. Where is she now? What is she doing? How many cheong sams does she own now? It is only until this moment, do I realize the resonating power of Maggie’s performance from In The Mood For Love…as for the other female characters, who cares? Wong Kar Wai owes Maggie big time for this unexpected surprise, truly…I feel for Chow Mo Wan’s yearning to return to 2046 where Su Li Zhen 1960 lives on. It is excruciatingly torturous to see only a few glimpses of Maggie Cheung!

Wong’s latest pontification is one of change, which is a constant but memories are also a form of constant, untainted by any climate and survive any time zones as long as they are kept alive. Once the clock strikes 2047, how many Hong Kongers would travel back to 2046 to relieve their memories of ‘unchanged policy’ days? Wong has been striking on this political theme in his past efforts notably and arguably the best, Chungking Express, others include Happy Together and In The Mood for Love. One wonders if Wong Kar Wai has once again struck a chord with Hong Kongers or have they grown tired of his political innuendos beneath the expensive footages? If so, 2046, 5 years in the making is perhaps one of the most expensive and ineffective political campaign ever made. Period.

2046 is nominated for the Palme D’Or at the 57th Cannes Film Festival 2004.

Rating: 2.5/4

Recommended info sites:
2046 Official Site
Monkey Peaches Asian Film Resources
Wong Kar Wai (2.0) Because we have taste.

Soundtrack available at all leading CD stores in Singapore.

The writer graduated B.A. (with Distinction) in Media Studies from RMIT University, Australia.
Minor in Asian Cinema under the tutelage of filmmaker, critic, film historian and Australia’s leading authority on Hong Kong films, Dr. Stephen Teo, who is also author of the first book on HK cinema, Hong Kong Cinema: The Extra Dimensions (BFI: 1997).

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  • Eric Olsen

    wow, The One, I know about nothing of which you speak, but that is some mighty fine analysis and taught explication – thanks and welcome!

  • http://corgitoergosumtheone.blogspot.com The One

    Ha…Eric, you’ve got to watch it even though I don’t think this is his greatest work.

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