Quite simply, this film is one of the most beautiful and by far the most masterfully directed I have seen in recent years. Before watching it, I wondered whether Wong Kar Wai could possibly match the craft and sentimentality of In The Mood For Love, which acts as a prequel to this story, but I needn't have worried. If possible, 2046 actually surpasses the previous film in terms of its stunning, colourful shots and slow, enchanting camera work. It's impossible not to be lost within the film.
Perhaps, the director's greatest achievement is that he is able to take a genre (romance), which has been devalued through repetition of style and poverty of quality, and create a film, which single-handedly forces the viewer to believe that such things can actually be made with class.
At the outset, we are reintroduced to Chow Mo Wan (Tony Leung) and find that since the final scenes of In The Mood For Love he is now out of work, living in a cheap motel and attempting to free himself from the torments of his memories through the therapy of an experimental novel - the 2046 of the title. Over the course of the next couple of years, we follow him on a journey through which he attempts to find a substitute for the love he has lost.
We are introduced, not only to the many females he interacts with, but to Wong Kar Wai's appreciation of them, seeing firstly the delicately sensual ankles of Bai Ling (Zhang Ziyi), before slowly focussing on the fingertips of Miss Wang (Faye Wong). Surrounding himself with beautiful women and attempting to live as if in a hedonistic utopia of casual sex, Chow attempts to replace the emotions of his memories with the experiences of the present. He drinks, he socialises and he sleeps with lots of women. While initially he seems to have found a winning formula, it is through his writing that we realise he cannot escape the longing for his past.
Anyone unfamiliar with the work of Wong Kar Wai needs to take a look at this film. From first shot to last, it is a hybrid of multiple directorial techniques; the soft, slow motion camera, gauging the characters' responses, focussing on seemingly insignificant objects (doorknobs, shoes, dripping taps), as they unfold before the viewers eyes, significant fixtures, whether real or metaphorical, in the mood of each respective scene. Through his control of darkness and contrasting light, the director is able to take the most simple of actions, such as Bai Ling smoking a cigarette, and have it magnified, creating a sensuousness in everything she does.
Conversely, in the scenes set in the future, where the acts of Chow's science fiction novel are played out, the shots are exuberant in their colour, each a celebration of light and physical beauty, reminiscent of some of the finest work of Jean-Luc Godard. Throughout, each delicately woven plot twist, character fall or rejection, is accompanied by haunting, operatic music, only occasionally interrupted by dialogue. Indeed, one of the great aspects of 2046 is that on the rare occasions when the significance of the dialogue falters, the score accompanying each shot allows the viewer to sit back and enjoy the unravelling mystery rather than search for its answers. Perhaps, not coincidentally, the music itself is reminiscent of Godard's Le Mepris.
As the story unfolds and at each moment of the film's passing, I find myself more and more absorbed in the web of interlinking characters spun by Wong Kar Wai. Through the subtlety of his direction, the charming performance from Leung and the beautiful soundtrack accompanying his every move, this is a film I genuinely didn't want to end.