2046 — General statements
What does 2046 mean?
A room number (in this film and in In the Mood for Love); a science fiction story being written; the date China gains full control of Hong Kong; a location perhaps psychological, perhaps geographical; a year in the future. Some joked it was the release date of the film because the director was taking so long to finish it :-)
Post 1997 Hong Kong cinema
When Hong Kong reverted to Chinese control, it gained access to the Chinese market but also came under Chinese censorship—sort of an identity crisis for a very powerful movie industry.
Our approach to this film
2046 provides for us an excellent opportunity to consider "layering". To prep for this do two things: read the below synopses of the prior two films of the trilogy and learn the characters and how they overlap. Don't miss the chart that is at the bottom of the characters page. Expect us to discuss the role of memories in love, blending of boundaries of individuals that one loves or to whom on is attracted and how that affects feelings and choice, and non-linearity as a story-telling mode that supports these things.
2046, very much a product of Hong Kong and deep in the lingua of that city (in its 1960s formulation) also provides an interesting contrast to the Beijing school of films.
2046, with its moody, dreamy message has resonance with The Tale of Genji. But we will explore whether the foundation is modern angst or Buddhist subversion.
Money (actual currency, not wealth) is an important component in these of our covered materials: Story of the Stone, 2046, the second and third segments of Three Times and, I think indirectly, 3-Iron. But of these materials, perhaps it is strongest in this film. We will compare it to Story of the Stone not especially because this is the best place to go but because I want to do other things with Three Times, which probably has the strongest money-link to this film.
Please note, also, the non-discursive, very powerful components of this film: its imagery (especially its color palette) and its soundtrack.
Necessary background information for the story line
2046 is the final segment of a trilogy by this director. Below are summaries of the two prior films. 1) Please read carefully. Since we will discuss layering, we can't possibly do that unless you are familiar with the story basics. I have bolded areas that cross-over explicitly with our film (as in, events referred to in our film) but the entire story-lines also need to be kept in mind. It is next to impossible to make sense of 2046 without knowing these stories ... well. Because the stories are confusing and the films are confusing, both. 2) Watch the trailers I've linked to at the end of the story synopsis.
Days of Being Wild (1991)
IMDb synopsis (heavily modified):
Set in 1960 [metropolitan Hong Kong], the film centers on the young, boyishly handsome Yuddy ["York" in the English language version and subtitles, a prototype of our Mr. Chow], who learns from the drunken ex-prostitute who raised him that she is not his real mother. The revelation shakes Yuddy to his very core, unleashing a cascade of conflicting emotions.
This woman hoping to keep Yuddy near her and persists in refusing to divulge the name of his real birth mother [who is a Filipino aristocrat].
Two women have the bad luck to fall for Yuddy—the quiet Su Li-Zhen who has a low-level job at a sports arena and the brash and glitzy Mimi, a showgirl. [Su Li-Zhen reappears in In the Mood for Love, considerably altered and reappears in 2046 as a memory and as another woman who bears the same name. Mimi reappears in 2046 as an aged playgirl under the psudonym Lulu, and as an android.]
Perhaps due to his unresolved Oedipal issues, Yuddy passively lets the two compete for him, unable or unwilling to make a choice [this passive aspect is very similar to Mr. Chow].
As Li-Zhen slowly confides her frustration and depression to a policeman named Tide [Andy Lau, by the way], who falls in love with her. [Her response: Li-Zhen drifts away from Yuddy since he never shows signs of serious committment. This Li-Zhen becomes the lost, "true" love of Mr. Chow in 2046.]
Similarly, Yuddy's friend Zeb love Mimi. [Her response contrasts to that of Li-Zhen: Mimi cannot let go of her feelings for Yuddy and is self-destructive in her behavior; an echo of this can be seen in 2046.]
Later, Yuddy learns of his birth mother's whereabouts and heads out to the Philippines but is killed in a gang-related brawl.
Trailer: Days of Being Wild (1990) HQ Trailer (YouTube). It is easy to figure out which woman is which. Notice the trademark combing of the hair the Yuddy / York does; we see this so often in 2046.
In the Mood for Love (2000)
On the Chinese title (花樣年華): "flower-like" / "time / life / year" so something like "the time (of your life where you) are lke flowers"; in others words, the best years of your life ... Someone correct me if I"m wrong. This makes a good contrast to Mr. Chow's life (lifestyle?) in 2046.
from Wiki (modified):
The film takes place in Hong Kong, 1962. Chow Mo-wan (Tony Leung), a journalist, rents a room in an apartment of a building on the same day as Su Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung), a secretary from a shipping company. They become next-door neighbors. Each has a spouse who works and often leaves them alone on overtime shifts. Despite the presence of a friendly Shanghainese landlady, Mrs. Suen, and bustling, mahjong-playing neighbors, Chow and Su often find themselves alone in their rooms. Their lives continue to intersect in everyday situations: a recurring motif in this film is the loneliness of eating alone, and the film documents the leads' chance encounters, each making their individual trek to the street noodle stall.
Chow and Su each nurse suspicions about their own spouse's fidelity; each comes to the conclusion that their spouses have been seeing each other. Su wonders aloud how their spouses' affair might have began, and together, Su and Chow re-enact what they imagine might have happened.
Chow soon invites Su to help him write a martial arts serial for the papers. As their relationship develops, their neighbors begin to take notice. In the context of a socially conservative 1960s' Hong Kong, friendships between men and women bear scrutiny. Chow rents a hotel room away from the apartment where he and Su can work together without attracting attention. The relationship between Chow and Su is platonic, as there is the suggestion that they would be degraded if they stooped to the level of their spouses. As time passes, however, they acknowledge that they have developed feelings for each other. Chow leaves Hong Kong for a job in Singapore. He asks Su to go with him; Chow waits for her at the hotel room for a time, and then leaves. She can be seen rushing down the stairs of her apartment, only to arrive at the empty hotel room, too late to join Chow.
The next year, Su goes to Singapore and visits Chow's apartment where she calls Chow, who is working for a Singaporean newspaper, but she remains silent on the phone when Chow picks up. Later, Chow realizes she has visited his apartment after seeing a lipstick-stained cigarette butt in his ashtray. While dining with a friend, Chow relays a story about how in older times, when a person had a secret that could not be shared, he would instead go atop a mountain, make a hollow in a tree, whisper the secret into that hollow and cover it with mud.
Three years later, Su visits with her former landlady, Mrs. Suen. Mrs. Suen is about to emigrate to the United States, and Su enquires about whether the apartment is available for rent. Some time later, Chow returns to visit his landlords, the Koos. He finds they have emigrated to the Philippines. He asks about the Suen family next door, and the new owner tells him a woman and her son are now living next door. He leaves without realizing Su is the lady living next door.
The film ends at Siem Reap, Cambodia, where Chow is seen visiting the Angkor Wat. At the site of a ruined monastery, he whispers for some time into a hollow in a ruined wall, before plugging the hollow with mud. [You can see the final scene here: In the Mood for Love—final sequence (YouTube). 2046 begins with a large brass "hole" — the place where secrets are told. Its origin is this small hole. Further, the way Mr. Chow speaks into it in this trailer is how Tak will speak to his android who makes a "hole" with her index finger and thumb.]
Trailer: In the Mood for Love (2000) trailer (YouTube). Please be sure to watch this, not to clarify the story line but because so many of the scenes in this particular trailer are the scenes repeated in 2046: the stairs, the stair-railing, the taxicab, the hands in the taxicab, and so on.
From a 2001 interview with the director of In the Mood For Love & 2046:
(SL:) There are no sex scenes in the final cut of "In the Mood for Love," but you did shoot one, and left it out. Why?
(WKW:) The reason I shot the love scene is - this is the way I work - because I wanted the two actors to realize why they act like they do and what kind of relationship they have. So on the first day, we did this love scene and from then on the actors knew that something could happen between them. This made the chemistry between the characters different, the way they look, walk together and react to each other.
At the end of the day, we left that scene out, but still we have that chemistry. It was the same way with "Happy Together." When we started filming, the first scene was the love scene, so, the two actors knew exactly what sort of a relationship they have. They have to face that, you know: do we have an affair or do we actually fuck each other, which makes quite a difference. ("Wong Kar-Wai: The Privilege of Time Traveling," interview by STEFANIE LÜHRS, Artist Inteviews March 2001)