Monday, May 9, 2016

Captured by the game: In The Mood For Love and 2046

One more review found down the back of the Time Sofa, and it's a two-fer!

Wong Kar-wai's In The Mood For Love (2000) and 2046 (2004) constitute one acknowledged classic and its interesting but erratic sequel of sorts.

A bare summary of In The Mood For Love barely does justice to the film, but nonetheless: it is set in Hong Kong, primarily in the 1960's. It concerns the growing attraction between two neighbours - Su Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung) and Chow Mo-wan (Tony Leung) who learn their partners are having an affair under the guise of overseas business. The discovery brings them closer together, and while their own temptation beckons, their love remains unconsummated and ultimately unfulfillled.

The appeal of Mood... for me is twofold. One, it's one of the most visually sumptuous films I've seen. The tracking shots of Cheung (who wears the most amazing cheongsam dresses in the film) as she descends from her apartment to the noodle stall, the arrangement of each tiny tableau in their homes, in the restaurant, in the rainy streets of Hong Kong. 

You could watch it with the sound turned down and it would still be pretty darn good. But the soundtrack of crooners and wistful classics is spot-on too. The whole aesthetic is a masterclass in capturing a sense of restrained, slow-burning passion, using nothing more overt than hand-holding and a final embrace between Cheung and Leung.

Second, I loved the idea of the two main characters - constrained by convention - slowly tricking themselves into a love they'd not believed themselves capable of, by imagining and replaying how their spouses might have conducted their affair. Becoming captured by the game. Or by playing it at a deeper level than they had consciously intended.

If Mood... is a near-perfect exercise in style which also has depth to spare, consider 2046 an intentionally jarring and incoherent commentary upon it.

2046 (a hotel room number or fictional train destination as well as a future date) follows Chow's return to Hong Kong a number of years later. He's a changed man, a jaded writer, and none of the affairs he has in the course of the film, chaste or unchaste, can replace the love he lost in Mood...

Like it's predecessor, it's another meditation on love and restraint, but much more slippery in its plot- and time-lines. The painterly approach to story familar from In The Mood For Love has become fragmented, more abstract here. 

We jump from story to story - from Chow's relationship with another woman named Su, to his inability to return the affections of Zhang Ziyi's high-class call girl, to his writing of a science-fiction story about a train journey to a place where you recover lost memories, to an apparent immersion in the same story.

2046 is just as memorable as its predecessor in its visual thrills. And it is certainly trying to say something about the problem of repetition and the difficulty of transcending the past. It is however a more difficult film - not just because of its non-traditional narrative but because Chow's ageing libertine is not a particularly sympathetic character. 

Through the distorting prism of memory, it seems to me that both these things make 2046 less about him as protagonist, more about the damage he does to his relationships as a consequence of the events of In The Mood For Love.

Let me put it this way - I want to see In The Mood For Love again because I'm pretty sure I'll love it all over again. I want to see 2046 again because I want to make more sense of it second time around. 

PS - I've also belatedly discovered there's an earlier film in the same universe (Moodiverse?) called Days Of Being Wild I'll keep a look out for now too.

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