I must confess that I have not seen Wong Kar Wai's In the Mood for Love, the 2000 romantic drama to which this film serves as a sequel of sorts. It has been stressed repeatedly that a knowledge of its predecessor is not necessary in order to appreciate 2046; this review, therefore, will hopefully make for an interesting counterpoint to the other two on DVD Times, both of which were written by writers familiar with the first film.
1966: Regretting the ending of his relationship with Su Li-Zhen (Maggie Cheung), newspaper columnist Chow Mo-Wan (Tony Leung) leaves Singapore and holes up in a hotel room in Hong Kong where he beds a string of women and writes erotic fiction, seemingly trying to erase the memory of Su Li-Zhen, or perhaps in fact to recreate his failed relationship with her. He reckoned without Bai Ling (Zhang Ziyi), however, who, despite initially being contemptuous of his advances, quickly comes to the realization that she wants more than a one night stand, and as Chow does his best to keep her at arm's length - for example, insulting her by paying her every time they sleep together - she becomes increasingly determined. Bai Ling is just one of many women, however, and again and again Chow finds himself embroiled in ultimately destructive trysts that continue to repeat the pattern of his relationship with Su Li-Zhen.
2046 is predominantly a mood piece, mixing film noir sensibilities with science fiction. Dialogue is used sparingly, and the storyline is initially relatively thin on the ground, focusing on characters, settings and emotions rather than plot. Wong Kar Wai's establishment of mood is not in dispute: the entire film evokes a long-gone era, with a combination of cinematography, costuming and music creating an ambience of melancholy and nostalgia. Even an extended science fiction segment, the result of a collaboration between Chow and his landlord's daughter, Jin Weng (Faye Wong), feels like a product of the 60s and, despite looking into the future, has the unmistakable air of being an artifact from the past. As an exercise in atmosphere, therefore, 2046 is a delight.
Permeating the entire film are Chow's memories of his failed relationship with Su Li-Zhen back in Singapore - memories which he tries to bury by involving himself with as many women as possible while avoiding any sort of commitment. Su Li-Zhen is idealized, little more than an image, which contrasts this film with In the Mood for Love, where the relationship of these two characters was at the forefront. This relationship still affects almost all of the events of 2046, but here it remains very much in the background. Chow Mo-Wan is not a particularly likeable character - a rather slimy individual with an infuriatingly silver tongue - but Tony Leung's performance certainly makes him fascinating to watch.
However, the length ultimately works against the tale's obvious qualities, resulting in a film that is rather repetitive. The material is evocative, but unfortunately was not enough for me to completely lose myself in the film's world and forget the running time. One could certainly argue that repetition was what the director was aiming for, and it is certainly appropriate to Chow's situation, the whole point of which is the fact that he is so tied to the past that he is destined to repeat the same mistakes over and over, but at over two hours in length, it ultimately beings to feel redundant. There is also the problem of the fact that none of the women Chow involves himself with come across as anything more than ciphers. Again, an arhument could be made for this being intentional and appropriate, but this becomes something of a problem in the case of Bai Ling, with whom, it would seem, we are meant to sympathize. There is a clinical quality to much of the film, with plenty of mood but no true emotion.
Ultimately, I can see why a lot of people rate 2046 so highly, and had it been a little tighter and more involving, I would certainly have been more positive about it, as the cast, visuals and audio are absolutely top-notch, and the subject matter itself has the potential to be fascinating. Sadly, however, while there is much in the film to enjoy, I came away from it feeling quite unaffected, and certainly not of the opinion that I had witnessed a masterpiece. I strongly suspect that the situations would have resonated more strongly with me had I seen In the Mood for Love prior to tackling 2046, but going into it cold, I was left distinctly indifferent to the whole affair.
Tartan, once considered by many to be one of the worst DVD companies, have made impressive advances in the quality department over the last 18 months, and their release of 2046 is very good indeed. Presented anamorphically in its proper 2.39:1 aspect ratio, it is well encoded and the colour reproduction is fantastic. Some issues with a slight sheen of softness and less than solid black levels, both of which have affected a number of their recent releases, including The Cooler and Wonderland, can be observed, but still, this is a largely satisfying presentation and is, for the most part, in keeping with the quality of their recent releases.
Three audio tracks are provided, catering to all walks of life. For the most part I ignored the Dolby Digital 2.0 track (although I did listen to it for a few brief scenes, and the quality seemed absolutely fine) and focused on the two 5.1 tracks, which come in Dolby and DTS varieties. One did not strike me as sounding substantially different from the other, and I suspect that people will be happy with either. I don't speak Cantonese, but to my ears the dialogue sounded perfectly crisp and clear, if perhaps ever so slightly tinny. The music probably fares the best, sounding deep and full. Most of the time the rears are completely silent, but they do kick in now and then to provide background effects like the sound of rainfall or the chatter in a bar.
English subtitles are provided, and they are of a reasonable standard. Unfortunately, they fall squarely below the image itself and occupy the black letterboxing, meaning that viewers with projection displays, who commonly mask off unused portions of the image, will find this release absolutely useless. Unsurprisingly, but disappointingly nonetheless, the only subtitled extras are those that are spoken in a language other than English.
In a UK-exclusive Director Interview, Wong Kar Wai explains (in very fluent English) explains the genesis of the film's storyline, its connection with In the Mood for Love and its troubled production. The presentation is nothing special - simply a case of an occasional text-based question appearing on the screen and Wong Kar Wai addressing the camera - but this is absolutely fine as it gets straight to the heart of the matter rather than cluttering it with needless edits and clips from the film.
Up next is a rather poor quality, video-sourced Zhang Ziyi Interview. Running for just under 12 minutes, Zhang Ziyi discusses a range of subjects, including the costumes she wears in the film, working with Wong Kar Wai, and the challenges that faced her when coming to grips with such a complex character. The piece has that narcissistic tone that often tends to affect actor interviews, but it is interesting enough, particularly when she gives her opinion of Wong Kar Wai's overall style and subject matter.
Zhang Ziyi also shows up in a brief On Set featurette, which runs for three minutes and is essentially comprised of footage of various scenes being shot, outtakes and B-roll material. In other words, nothing really of any note.
The rest of the extras are essentially comprised of the kind of material you would expect to be included in just about any release: the original 7-minute 2003 Promo, the Hong Kong teaser and theatrical trailer, the "original theatrical trailer", which has English-language inserts, and trailers for three other Tartan releases: In the Mood for Love (appropriately enough), Mysterious Skin and The Machinist. Finally, a music video is also included, for the opera piece that plays at various points throughout the film.
When all said and done, the line-up of extras is really not all that impressive. The two interviews are by far the most worthwhile inclusions, and the range of different trailers provided is a nice touch, but there is really nothing else of any note on offer. A commentary would have been a great inclusion, because one gets the impression, from the interview at least, that Wong Kar Wai has a lot to say about this project, especially given how long it took to come to fruition, and it would have been great if a gallery had been included to show off some of the impressive costumes and set designs. This is especially disappointing given that the Hong Kong release, reviewed here by Noel Megahey, included a 35-minute documentary and a slide show of promotional shots. Tartan usually do a good job of porting over the majority of extras from other releases, so perhaps the lack of bonus materials here is due to a rights issue.
2046 is a beautiful film, but ultimately one without a great deal of purpose. The package feels somewhat let down by a relative lack of insightful extras, but Tartan have provided a decent audio-visual presentation which should satisfy most people.