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The director of the great Chungking Express, Wong Kar-Wai, once again stunned audiences a few years ago with his seminal masterpiece, In the Mood for Love, which was in fact a pseudo-sequel to one of his earlier works, Days of Being Wild. 2046 marks the concluding chapter in this disparate trilogy. Although not connected in the conventional sense of sequels, the three films work together in much the same way as Kieslowski’s Three Colours Trilogy, i.e. disjointed. Of course it is the same theme running throughout all three of Wong Kar-Wai’s films—tormented love—even if each movie has a different take on relationships. Personally, I was not overly impressed with Days of Being Wild (mainly because it was butchered by Tartan—something that they have acknowledged and repented for since), but In the Mood for Love was a classic piece of contemporary art, so I was very much looking forward to 2046—especially with Tony Leung returning and the lovely Zhang Ziyi aboard. The question is does it live up to the expectation of those stunned by In the Mood for Love?

Initially, you would be forgiven for assuming that 2046 was set in the future. The reality is that, like the other movies in the trilogy, it is set in sixties Hong Kong and follows the exploits of the womanising writer and observer-of-life Chow Mo-Wan as he starts his next book, entitled 2046. The book is about a mysterious train that allows its passengers to travel into the future—to 2046—where they are then able to recall their past lives and loves with both fondness and sadness. Whilst writing the book, he encounters several different women and carries on affairs with most of them—to varying success—but no matter how the relationships end, the characters always make it into his story. Eventually he becomes consumed by his own imagination and desperation to revisit his own lost love via the elusive 2046 train.

Tony Leung (who made his first appearance in the epilogue of Days of Being Wild) really is one of finest actors that I have come across in recent years. If you think of his résumé, it includes work as diverse as the seminal John Woo action film Hard Boiled, where he starred alongside Chow Yun-Fat, the indisputably amazing Infernal Affairs trilogy, where he got to work with the likes of Andy Lau, Anthony Chow and Carina Lau, and, of course, In the Mood for Love, where he played opposite Maggie Cheung. Here, his character, Chow Mo-Wan once again practically carries the whole movie—not only by his presence in almost every scene, but also by his narration. However, the character is not quite as sympathetic as you might expect following In the Mood for Love. This is mainly because he seems to be so bitter from lost love that he is unable to carry on a normal relationship. The movie opens with him leaving the women that he loves (Maggie Cheung’s character from In the Mood for Love) behind in Singapore because she won’t come with him to Hong Kong and subsequently he seems to be relentlessly searching for his soul-mate and struggling to escape his haunting memories. It is a theme which is paralleled by the very story he is writing, where there is a struggle to get somewhere in the future, only to find that when you get there, you are stuck in the memories of your past.

Of course, the core to the love/hate relationship that you have with the ‘hero’ lies in his consistently bad treatment of the different women in his life. Amongst these women we have Lulu, played by the unusually beautiful Carina Lau, an old flame of his who fleetingly passes through his life once more on her way to a part in his memoir-like novel. Lau previously starred in the prequel, Days of Being Wild, but I think that only her relatively recent movies—like the Infernal Affairs movies and this film, really showcase both her unusual beauty and her acting range. We also get the rather cute Faye Wong, playing Wang Jingwen, the elder daughter of Chow Mo-Wan’s landlord. As a fellow writer, she finds a kindred spirit in Chow, but soon becomes more a part of his futuristic book than of his life, being haunted herself by a forbidden love with a Japanese man.

And—perhaps most importantly to readers—we have the high class prostitute, Bai Ling, who moves into the flat next to Chow Mo-Wan and subsequently falls for him. She is played by the outrageously gorgeous Zhang Ziyi, who slashed through onto our screens with a phenomenal breakthrough performance in the superb Chow Yun-Fat-starring Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Cementing her career with the vastly underrated Hero, where she starred opposite Jet Li and Tony Leung, and the slightly over-hyped but nonetheless great House of Flying Daggers, opposite Andy Lau, she has clearly shown that she is capable of great things. Here, in a fanboy’s dream-come-true role akin to that of Natalie Portman in Closer, she is not only sexy as hell but also achingly adorable—her subtle bottom-lip-biting as a sign of attraction being simply irresistible. She is also given a different depth to before because, although normally her characters are plagued by some kind of impossible love, here her character is not some virginal girl but instead all woman.

Many regard 2046 as standing in the shadow of Wong Kar-Wai’s previous masterpiece, In the Mood for Love but I think that it is perfectly capable of standing alone as a work of art. Perhaps the subject nature does not make for as deep a study of love and emotion, but the parallel future-scape painted serves well to counterbalance the protagonist’s successive liaisons. And I think it is the cast who really make the movie—as with many great movies—because no matter how clever the script, nor how stylish the direction, the cast decide whether it is all going to work or not. Wong Kar-Wai’s films has clearly refined his movie over the years, and whilst perhaps not better than In the Mood for Love, I personally think this is arguably its equal, and certainly a fitting conclusion to the disjointed trilogy and is highly recommended.

The visually stunning 2046 is presented in a solid but unexceptional 2.35:1 aspect ratio, anamorphically enhanced widescreen transfer. It is a shame because the movie is so grippingly stylish that you just want the picture to be perfect and any kind of flaw becomes more noticeable than in less aesthetic movies. Luckily the detail is largely good, clarity retained throughout, with no noticeably unintentional lapses into softness—although the director’s sporadic use of softer imagery is simply part of his style. There is some light grain that touches the whole transfer, but you get used to it and it is never too intrusive. The colour scheme—particularly in the futuristic scenes—is one of the broadest that I have come across recently, with entire scenes often drenched in reds or blues and the transfer having to handle all of this. It does so well, and even the blacks are deep, dark and solid. There are also no noticeably defects—with none of the dust and blips that have been reported on other releases of this film. All in all it may not be a perfect transfer, and with this kind of visually opulent film it really should be, but it is still a decent effort that should not diminish your appreciation of the movie itself.

There are two main Dolby Digital 5.1 audio tracks—the original Cantonese track and a dubbed Mandarin track. The original track is clearly the one to go for, and it is a powerful mix that puts you right in the middle of the emotional roller-coaster that is unravelling. A predominantly dialogue-driven affair, the vocals are always crystal clear and well-representative, if at times not as directional as on some other mixes I have come across. There are few effects, other than perhaps for the sequences set in the future, and none of them make noteworthy use of the surrounds, and there is a similar lack of bass in the proceedings—although both seem largely unnecessary in this kind of movie. Aside from the key dialogue, the score is also worth mentioning. Reminiscent of the more classical elements of Eric Serra’s score for Luc Besson’s masterpiece, Léon, the haunting strings pervade most of the movie and are superbly represented by both the frontal and rear array. The track is perfectly suited to the movie, and is accompanied by optional subtitles in English or Chinese—both traditional and simplified.

It is worth first noting that this is the ‘extended cut’ of the film, and that the movie was originally cut in China, purportedly for the Zhang Ziyi sex scenes. All other releases—including this Hong Kong Mei Ah release—house the extended cut. It is also worth noting that this is the single-disc Mei-Ah release, and that there is also a two-disc limited edition with a bevy of extras that include several interesting featurettes.

Unfortunately, what that means is that all we get is a two minute trailer which paints the movie slightly deceptively (but nevertheless sells it well), and a text databank with both a brief story synopsis and cast profiles for Tony Leung, Zhang Ziyi, Takura Kimura and Faye Wong.

2046 is one of those movies that you simply must see. It’s as simple as that. For the acting, the story, or the masterful direction, it is a masterpiece. This release sees it being given a decent transfer and a good audio representation, but lacks in extras—although for those you can easily pick up the two-disc edition. This is one of those movies that you don’t need to worry about renting, it should sit proudly in your collection, so if you haven’t already then go out and pick up one of the two superior Mei-Ah releases.

You can order this title for $12.99 from top retailer Yes Asia.