Futuristic flight of fancy

Wong Kar-wai produces yet another visually stirring epic

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Calling all devotees of sultry pulp: this is what you’ve been waiting for, one of the most beautiful films ever made. Of course, that’s been proclaimed over and again by giddy reviewers to sinful degree. In taste, nothing is written. But you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone not transfixed by the lurid cinematic flirtations of master director Wong Kar-wai’s 2046, a rambling musing on memory, regret and the torture of unquiet love.

2046 is retro ’60s in ambience: erotic, ultra-chic, sometimes sci-fi and terribly glamorous all at the same time. It’s so sweet it almost ranks as camp, but the appeal is hard to resist. The film worships the female form-in-fashion, providing a fabulous show of porcelain skin, blood-red lipstick and vintage dresses and shoes, on a parade of A-list Chinese actresses — Gong Li, Carina Lau, Maggie Cheung and Ziyi Zhang (who takes a serious turn here, departing from her Crouching Tiger days).

Wong flexes his cinematic might. His color palette is vast and deep, his camera shots framed and hued with excruciating care. Curtains, windows, doors, mirrors and other architectural elements are used to box out scenes; shots emerge like 3-D sculptures and old photographs.

There is a story of sorts, but the film is not so much a drama as a visual orgy of encounters and emotions. The setting is 1960s Hong Kong in the Los Angeles-esque Hotel Orient. Here, Chow Mo Wan (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai) sets up camp in room 2047, next door to 2046, where the story begins and ends, so to speak. Chiu-Wai is Wong’s Bogart, playing the debonair man-about-town with slicked back hair and a dangling cigarette between his lips. A newspaper hack and smut fiction writer, Chow is our narrator and protagonist. At the hotel, he meets two women he loves in different ways, and is haunted by the memory of other women who’ve passed through his life, real or imagined, all tortured.

Unfortunately for plot, Chow is more a sketch of a man than a developing sentient being. He loves women he cannot have and grieves for women lost. He makes no breakthroughs and keeps his secrets. Meanwhile, the female characters are mostly permanently damaged, yet strong and independent — able to say no — but also one-dimensional.

By the final reel it’s apparent that much of what’s going on comes from the protagonist’s literary musings, which echo themes in previous Wong films. Reality and fiction are blurred into a thick stew. It’s garnished by an eclectic soundtrack, featuring opera, Latin lounge music, instrumental solos and Nat “King” Cole.

The mix at times leaves us wondering, where are we? In the end, it doesn’t matter. Don’t see this film for story. See it because it’s visceral and gorgeous pulp cinema.

 

Showing at the Detroit Film Theatre, inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit, at 7 and 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Sept. 16-17; and 4 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 18. 313-833-3237.

Lisa M. Collins writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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