In the mid-'60s, on the rebound from an affair with a married woman, journalist Chow (Leung) embarks on a series of doomed romances. In between flings, his obsession with the number of the room where he and the woman met inspires him to write 2046, a sci-fi novel about a place where people go to forget...
After testing the patience of the Cannes festival organisers by delivering a visually arresting yet dense 2046 mere hours before its premiere, Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar-Wai insisted that his five-years-in-the-making masterwork was ready for release. Which was bollocks. Instead, Mr. Pants-On-Fire almost entirely re-organised his baffling romance into something a little more orthodox, but definitely more engaging.
The result, a sort of sequel to Wong's 2000 arthouse smash In The Mood For Love, is well up to the director's usual standards. It's a hypnotic meditation on relationships based around a terrific central performance by longtime collaborator Tony Leung. Sporting a spiv's 'tache and leading a playboy's life, his Chow is a complex hero of sorts. He's charming, attentive and even sensitive, but capable of surprising emotional cruelty in his dealings with women, from mysterious, sophisticated gambler Su Li Zhen (Gong Li), to hopeful, guileless escort girl Bai Lin (Ziyi Zhang).
The latter is perhaps the film's greatest revelation. Bai Lin's hurt grounds this luminous, experimental movie in reality, while Zhang's turn earmarks her for stardom even more so than her breakout performance in Crouching Tiger. Without doubt, she is an actress of depth and versatility.
A languid, shimmering mood piece from a master stylist, with some of Asia's finest actors at their peak.
Reviewed by Damon Wise