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Sony Pictures Home Entertainment presents
"Love is all a matter of timing. It's no good meeting the right person too soon or too late. If I'd lived in another time or place, my story might have a very different ending."
DVD ReviewMy first taste of Chinese director Wong Kar-Wai's work was In the Mood for Love, his spare, quiet romantic masterpiece, about a man and a woman who discover their respective spouses are having an affair but can't quite bring themselves to do the same, despite their undeniable longing for one another. Kar-Wai's latest, 2046, is a quasi-sequel to that picture, concerning the same man, Chow (Tony Leung), but it's a much more ambitious, obtuse, even maddeningly self-indulgent film. Some feel it's the crowning achievement from a director who always viewed cinema as a form of emotional expression rather than a narrative medium. But it left me cold.
Several years after the events of In the Mood for Love, Chow, now working as a pulp novelist for hire, moves into room 2047 in a cheap hotel in Hong Kong. He's a changed man. Once mannered and repressed, he's now something of a ladies' man—he's found the sexual relationship he never got to have with his long-ago love, but never found her equal. The film gives us glimpses of his relationships with other women, many of whom live next door to him in room 2046, including Bai Ling (Ziyi Zhang), a prostitute for whom he's more than a customer. He also is involved in a brief, intense affair with a mysterious gambler known as Black Spider (Gong Li), and passes along letters for a woman (Faye Wong) whose father doesn't want her to marry her Japanese lover.
All of these women have their effect on Chow, who integrates them into the narrative of his science-fiction novel 2046, sequences of which we see played out onscreen. These interludes hint at deeper meanings and symbols, and seem intended to provide a glimpse into Chow's inner life, but they're frustrating. Gorgeous, but frustrating. They stop the narrative dead, for one thing, and make it very difficult to follow the already confusing story (and not in the brain-teasing way that can be so satisfying when done well). Marvels of visual design, composition, makeup, costumes, and special effects, these glimpses of the future nevertheless seem to distract from the core story, turning what should be a small strokes emotional journey like In the Mood for Love into a confused, mannered art experiment.
A little background on the production proves telling—it was filmed piecemeal, without a script, over the course of four years and reportedly changed from straight sci-fi to romance and back as the director searched for the story, to the point where none of the actors knew exactly what movie they were making or what character they were playing. That's not to say that it's a total write-off, though—this is a film with no bad scenes that simply doesn't hang together. I think I understand what the story is "about," strictly speaking—Chow's search to find something lost in the past, not quite glimpsed in the future, and certainly absent in the present—but the message feels muddled, half-communicated, buried under stylish excess.
But is it still worth seeing? Absolutely. As I said, this is a movie with no bad scenes, and more than a few that will lodge in your memory for weeks. Every frame offers gorgeous, carefully controlled colors and compositions, pure cinematic art (thanks to three cinematographers, including Kar-Wai regular Christopher Doyle, who is rumored to have had a falling out with the director over this film). The all-star cast of Asian actresses offers depth far beyond their beauty, particularly Ziyi Zhang, open and vulnerable and heartbreaking.
If you can lose yourself in the visual splendor, revel in the melancholy mood the shifting, subjective narrative creates, you might find this to be moving, even profound. It's certainly daring, but I couldn't give myself over to it completely. I'm not quite saying there's no there, there, but I can't help but feel I'm missing something, and it's Kar-Wai's fault for obscuring it from view.
Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: C+
Image Transfer Review: 2046 is all about the visuals, and this 2.35:1 transfer shows them off nicely. Colors are very saturated and stylized, with heavy reds, browns and oranges in some scenes, and a pale green filter in others (some Asian versions don't include the green filter, which the director has indicated is supposed to be there). Detail is good and the image is largely free from edge enhancement, though there is some artifacting visible is spots.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: While this DD 5.1 mix will likely sound fine to those unfamiliar with the film (it presents dialogue clearly, and the score sounds rich and full across the front soundstage), it reportedly includes an incorrect mix that mutes the surround channels somewhat. Certainly the music isn't as enveloping as it was on the official Region 0 release I purchased last year.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 9 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
8 Other Trailer(s) featuring Yes, Heights, Junebug, Kung Fu Hustle, Layer Cake, Saraband, Thumbsucker, Memory of a Killer
2 Deleted Scenes
Packaging: Keep Case
The primary extra is Behind the Scenes of 2046 (36m:20s), a look back at the making of the film. The primary focus is the actors; everyone with a significant role talks about the characters and working with director Wong Kar-Wai. The film's production was unusual to say the leastÑstretching over four years, with actors sometimes being called back years later to add a scene here or thereÑand this documentary provides a bit of insight into how it went down. Worth watching, if a bit light on substance in spots.
A reel of interviews with Wong Kar-Wai, Tony Leung, and Ziyi Zhang (16m:13s) shed some light on the filmmaking process. The actors discuss the ways Kar-Wai gets the performances he wants, and how that made shooting a challenge, but also a rewarding experience. The director, meanwhile, explains the narrative and meaning behind the film pretty clearly, so if it threw you for a loop, he can at least explain in broad terms what the hell was going on.
Two deleted scenes are no better or worse than anything in the final filmÑthe narrative is so ambiguous, they could just has easily been left in and other sequences taken out and I probably wouldn't know the difference. The alternate ending, however, isn't nearly as effective as the one ultimately used; while I'm glad it got cut, it's worth watching once.
Anatomy of Memories (04m:49s) is a short, interesting look at the design and creation of the CGI cityscapes glimpsed in the future world sequences. The scenes weren't done by the time the film played at Cannes, and we get a look at the temporary, wire frame work that some critics reportedly preferred (those wacky French, I tell ya).
Music of 2046 is a sort of alternate scene selection menu that lets you access nine scenes using popular and classical music, with text noting how the score fits the film thematically. The use of music, particularly Christmas songs, is one of the more striking elements of 2046, so this is a nice feature. Similarly, Numerology of 2046 features pages of text pointing out all the repeating numbers and mathematical patterns sprinkled about, and how some of them are important for this reason or that reason. Not sure I buy it all, but it's interesting to note the parallels.
A Music Montage shows off the fantastic visuals, while a poster gallery offers a glimpse of the marketing campaign from around the world.
Extras Grade: B
Final Comments2046 is obviously an accomplished piece of work, dense and richly textured and visually stunning. But I’m not sure it all fits together to make a movie. An indulgent and exhausting cinematic feast, Wong Kar-Wai's latest effort left me feeling both overstuffed and, in the end, oddly empty. Sony's DVD features a great transfer and extras but a questionable audio mix, a situation sure to frustrate Region 1 fans.
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