Astonishingly lush images lend 2046 a surface beauty unparalleled in previous Wong Kar-wai films, giving it a distinctive grainy ‘look’ that is difficult to faithfully describe. Production designer (and film editor) William Chang and cinematographers Chris Doyle, Lai Yiu-fai (Love Will Tear Us Apart, Infernal Affairs) and Kwan Pun Leung (Lavender, director of The Making of Happy Together) create textured, absorbing visuals that envelop the screen and make it shimmer, suffocating 2D space. This is a magnetic work to stare at and behold, a triumph of artisanal collaboration that calls striking and obvious attention to the lack of visual experimentation in most other narrative features made anywhere.
The story of 2046 has drawn some speculation that Wong has somewhere lost his sense of what he’s trying to say. For some people, the two hours of luscious magnificence overstays its welcome within the boundaries of Wong’s haphazard storytelling. While the narrative trajectory often appears unfocused, this might be a tale that requires the repetition of slight variations in order to punch home it’s portrayal of the devastation impacted upon Chow since his failed affair. It might be relevant to the formal design of the film (beautiful on the surface …) that Chow’s dashing exterior obscures his tormented soul. Like all WKW films, everyone will have a subtly different reaction or thematic interpretation — mine was the understanding that 2046 is about the consequences of Chow’s failed romance with Su, which it demonstrates through his stubborn insistence to withhold his love to those willing to give him theirs. As he leaves a trail of broken hearts he sadly seems to convince himself that love always occurs in the wrong place and, more crucially, the wrong time.
Upon its initial release In the Mood for Love prompted questions about the future direction of Wong’s aesthetic. Had he matured, become (more) self-absorbed, or what? 2046 does actually feel like a sequel, so I’m not sure it will provide answers for the autobiographically inclined. But it does show us that the bag of tricks owned by WKW & friends is far from empty.