Tony Leung Chiu Wai as Chow Mo Wan
Li Gong as Su Li Zhen
Takuya Kimura as Tak
Faye Wong as Wang Jing Wen/WJW1967
Ziyi Zhang as Bai Ling
Carina Lau as Lulu/Mimi
Chen Chang as cc1966
Wang Sum as Mr. Wang/Train Captain
Ping Lam Siu as Ah Ping
Maggie Cheung as SLZ1960
Thongchai McIntyre as Jie Dong as Wang Jie Wen

enigmatic as it is deeply moving, but the gorgeous beauty of every frame more than makes up for the vague plot.

After splitting with a married woman with whom he had an affair, Mo Wan Chow (Tony Leung) moves to Hong Kong to become a tabloid writer. Once there, he moves into a hotel where he finds himself getting involved with the women who reside in the neighboring Room 2046, including the owner’s daughter (Faye Wong) and a promiscuous party girl (Zhang Ziyi).

In Wong Kar-Wai’s 2000 film In the Mood for Love, the Asian auteur studied the illicit affair between a writer and the married woman next door, as played by Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung. 2046 is not as much a sequel as a continuation as we see what happens to Leung’s character, Mr. Chow, as he tries to get over losing the woman that he loved.

Those expecting another In the Mood for Love will be thrown for a loop by the futuristic city landscape which opens the film, looking like something right out of Blade Runner. As you watch a bullet train speed through the city, a voice-over tells you that 2046 is a place where everyone wants to go but is difficult to leave. Before one gets too acclimated to this sci-fi setting, we return to the more customary era of China during the late ’60s. As the country is amidst a revolution, Chow has moved to a hotel in Hong Kong, after a woman he’s seeing dies in Room 2046, coincidentally, the same number as the hotel room where he had his affair back in Singapore.

Anyone who hasn’t seen Wong Kar-Wai’s previous film might not get as much out of the reference or some of the others, but otherwise, the film stands as its own entity as Mr. Chow to start buildup new relationships and romances, including a friendship with the hotel owner’s strange Japanese-speaking daughter, played by Faye Wong. The setting brings back memories of the Coen Brothers’ odd Barton Fink starring John Turturro, but somehow, Wong Kar-Wai is able to get even more esoteric with his story.

Chow is not nearly as likeable as he was in the previous film, since his character has become a bit of a playboy who hangs out at clubs and picks up different women with little regard for their feelings. As great as Leung is at evolving the character, there’s little question that the movie belongs to his female co-stars, especially Zhang Ziyi, who plays his party girl neighbor Bai Ling—and no, I don’t know why Mr. Wong chose to name her after another popular Chinese actress. Their love affair is the focal point for film, as she falls in love with him only to be treated by him like a common prostitute. She accepts the discount rate of $10 from him every time they make love. Without question, this is Ms. Zhang’s finest moment. Having grown up on screen, the role shows her advanced maturity as an actress, as she goes from laughter to tears in mere seconds. You would have to be inhuman not to have your own heart ache while watching her emotion-filled performance.

After the affair with Ling, Chow starts to settle down, starting a friendship and writing collaboration with the owner’s daughter. He starts falling for her, but she turns the tables on him by showing him absolutely no emotion or love. Suddenly, we’re transported into a science-fiction story Chow is writing in which the character from the opening, traveling on the train back from 2046, falls in love with an android conductor, also played by Faye Wong. It’s a rather odd Kubrickian interruption that seems out of place once the ’60s setting has been established, but it allows Wong to get more allegorical.

Ultimately, Chow faces up to the fact that his actions are all about the woman he left behind in Singapore, and when he finally returns there, he meets another woman who shares the name with his lost love, a female gambler with a black glove played by Gong Li. It’s a rather slim conclusion to such a heady excursion, but it leads to what could possibly be the most passionate on-screen kisses ever put in film.

While 2046 is a likely candidate for the strangest films of the year, in many ways, it’s also the most beautiful. If nothing else, one can admire the absolute love and care Wong puts into every scene, as he’s once again paired with his visionary partner-in-crime, cinematographer Christopher Doyle (Hero). While you’ll see some of the same visual tricks from In the Mood–slow motion rain and people walking up stars—he pulls a new trick out of his sleeve, by filming the interior scenes with a wide-angle Cinescope lenses. This makes the cramped nature of the small hotel seem even more claustrophobic. Doyle also knows just the right way to light a scene so that gorgeous actresses look even more amazing, and its accompanied by a sumptuous soundtrack mixing lush string passages with Brazilian pop tunes.

When it comes down to it, 2046 isn’t necessarily a time or a place, but it’s a state of mind that can and will be interpreted in many different ways. Knowing Wong Kar-Wai, his intention was always to deliberately keep it vague and make the viewer come up with their own answers.

The Bottom Line:
As odd as 2046 gets, its sheer beauty and the strength of the performances will be savored by some, even as less patient viewers are put to sleep. Either way, it’s an interesting follow-up to In the Mood for Love that should appeal to those who love foreign art films or anyone wanting to know the fate of the characters from Wong Kar-Wai’s previous film.

2046 opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday.