Movies: 2046: A Face Odyssey

2 minute read
Richard Corliss

Want to see a great kiss? There’s one in 2046, between Tony Leung Chiu-wai and Gong Li. He stands her against a wall and presses mouth to mouth. He moves back, and we see her lipstick violently smeared. A tear courses down her right cheek, another down her left. It’s an avalanche of a kiss; it has crushed not just her lips but also her heart.

Director Wong Kar-wai is an art-house fave for his slo-mo studies of Hong Kong’s lost souls. But the secret reason for the success of his avant-noir films is simple: he’s the world’s most romantic filmmaker. His iridescent images detail love’s anguish and rapture. Great-looking women throw themselves at cool guys, and the men often step aside. Love, the playwright Terry Johnson wrote, is something you fall in. Wong’s films make art out of that vertiginous feeling. They soar as their characters plummet.

2046 is a follow-up to Wong’s In the Mood for Love, about the furtive affair of a journalist, Chow (Leung), and a woman (Maggie Cheung) living in the same boardinghouse. Now Chow, relocated to a hotel, has erotic adventures with a prostitute (Zhang Ziyi), a gambler (Gong Li), a vamp named Lulu (Carina Lau) and the hotel manager’s beguiling daughter (Faye Wong), who is also a mysterious android in the science-fiction novel Chow is trying to write.

Movie romance is a snapshot of beautiful women turning grief into glamour, passion into pictures. The camera here (mainly manned by cinematographer Christopher Doyle) monitors their hearts like a fond lover, capturing Gong’s fire-and-ice hauteur, Faye Wong’s elfin radiance, Zhang’s panoply of pouts, flirtations and surrendering smiles. Even if a Chinese movie doesn’t sound like your idea of summer fun, give 2046 a chance. Its pearly artistry and gorgeous faces should put you quickly, deeply, in the mood for love. –By Richard Corliss

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