It’s the late 60’s and the streets of Hong Kong are full of social upheaval. Won Kar Wai’s third film ties “Days of Being Wild,” “In the Mood for Love,” and “2046,” in a loose, frenetic, film bouquet. Christopher Doyle, Pung-Leung Kwan, DPs, William Chang Costume and Set Design.
We follow Tony Leung’s Mr. Chow after he returns from Singapore and continues to write his sci-fi serials, and chase women. Maggie Cheung’s, Mrs. Chan is gone, but Maggie Cheung pops up in the imagined future of his serial where everyone is trying to get to a place called 2046, to recapture lost memories because there, nothing changes.
2046 is the apartment number Mr. Chow had many fond memories in with Mrs. Chan (Maggie Leung, from “In the Mood for Love”) and he happens to end up at another apartment 2046, this time with a woman named Lulu. Lulu’s character was first seen in Won Kar Wai’s “Days of Being Wild.” He leaves her in 2046, passed out and drunk, and comes the next day to return her room key. He wants to rent 2046, but unknown to him, Lulu’s jealous lover stabbed her there the night before. He ends up taking 2047 and watches his neighbors in 2046 through a grate at the top of the wall.
Mr. Chow is lost and floats from woman to woman, cigarette to cigarette, casino to casino. His hardened heart bleeds for no one. Ziyi Zhang’s character, Bai Ling, a neighbor in 2046, is a party girl who falls for Mr. Chow.
He treats her like a prostitute, paying for their trysts. She jokes and gives him a discounted rate since he insists on paying. She wants him exclusively but he refuses. She leaves him but not without throwing money at him on her way out. He has boiled down his most intimate human interactions to transactions.
Mr. Chow bonds with the apartment owner’s daughter Jing-Wen, Faye Wong. She is heartsick over her Japanese lover whom her father forbade her to see. They work on martial arts books together. Platonic relationships with women is where Mr. Chow finally shows some humanity.
In his futuristic serial, 2046, Mr. Chow’s protagonist, a Japanese man, leaves 2046. He is the first to do so, and finds an android (Faye Wong) who looks just like his lost love to fill the void.
It’s as if all the women Mr. Chow has been with since Mrs. Chan (Maggie Cheung) have been androids, filling the void of his unrequited love for her.
Bringing her happiness brings him joy. Maybe the act of bringing lovers together mends his wounded heart, or lets him feel a purity he lacks in his encounters. He has acted as a sort of author to their story, being the catalyst to their impending marriage.
Mr. Chow meets Su Li-zhen, Gong Li, a professional gambler, in Singapore. She coincidentally has the same name as Maggie Cheung’s, Mrs. Chan, the reason he left for Singapore. Ms. Su helps him win back his money to return to Hong Kong.
2046 is really just a state of mind. Your mind can trap you into staying in the past because you long for the way it was, or because you were so traumatized by it, you cannot move forward. Either way, the past is not real, and we should not try to live there. In his serial his protagonist leaves 2046, whereas Mr. Chow is woefully stuck there. Aren’t we all just authors of our own stories? Will yours have a happy or sad ending?
I don’t think this was received well, but I didn’t mind it’s meandering, multiple storylines, and threadbare narrative. Like a mink coat, I loved the look and feel of it, even it’s not popular to say so.