Originally mooted as a partner-piece to 1999's In The Mood For Love, Wong Kar-Wai's elegant follow-up endured an elongated production and calamitous Cannes before finally reaching final cut. If the director seems to 'find' his films in the editing room, this one must've been in hiding.
Now it's here, 2046 still evades easy grasp. Unfurling like hazy wisps of cigarette smoke, it outstrips its predecessor in elevating tone and feeling over plot and character. What it does, certainly, is create in style the state of suspended animation that Tony Leung's heart-broken Chow exists in. Unable to go back or move forward, he instead reflects on the past while composing imaginary futures from a stalled present. There, Chow indulges his feelings for several cinematic-looking women by filtering them through his novel about a train that transports people to the year 2046, where memories don't change.
The result is a kind of terminally romantic, blissed-out reverie, reflecting on and rarefying the explorations of love in Wong's earlier films. Given that, it could be self-indulgent, maybe mildly mystifying, for the uninitiated, but fans will find it sufficiently irresistible. Faye Wong's role is a nod to 1994's Chungking Express, but she's no less an elfin charisma-bomb for it. Likewise, the way 2046's love-drunk music sashays in time to Chris Doyle's intoxicating cinematography is no less rhapsodic for recalling Mood. And Wong has many fresh flourishes, too: among them, Zhang Ziyi's boldest performance yet, a mellifluous CG futureworld, and a tough, truthful take on sexual relations.
Sure, some may feel that 2046 holds together by style alone, and then only just. Others might find its very musical method of unfolding through subtle variations on recurrent themes simply repetitive. But it's more than that, emerging as an exquisitely strange, erotic, beguiling, beautiful meditation on writing, desire and emotional deadlock. And if its sensuality draws you in only to elegantly elude your touch, well, that's seduction for you.