2046 -Wong Kar Wai - Hong Kong - 2004, Tony Leung - Su Lizhen - Bai Ling - Faye Wong
Viewed: Tyneside Cinema Newcastle 11/ 2/ 05 Ticket - £5 - 95
When the bubble pops.
As soon as I saw the opening credits that announced where the money to make 2046 came from - ARTE France and ZDF- the film was announced as a hybrid product of Euros and HK dollars. So I wondered what sort of a movie I was going to see. From experience the odds were it was going to be a variation on Pot Noodles. A dish with Chinese ideograms wrapping a meal prepared for the European palate.
2046 is a coffee table movie with a dynamic of intensification modeling its structure. The feel of the film is for a saturation along certain dimensions such as texture and colour in particular green, Vermeer rather than jade; a visual saturation over laid with mannered movement in particular the mannered acting style extracted from all the lead players. IN relation to its sound track ‘2046’is washed through with both music - some of it perhaps parody but most of it middle of the road Western classical sentimentality ; and rather twee dialogue exchanges. ‘2046’ is trailed as having a sci-fi framework, but in fact this section feels pure gloss(more metaphoric than actual - but I’ll come to this later) and has little substance. The dip into the future becomes an excuse for Won Kar Wai to raid the stylistic larder of films past to brighten up ‘2046’ - a little Blade Runner, Alphaville etc. Stylistically even those sequences not set in futuristic zones (‘2046 where nothing changes everything is always stays the same’ this description of course describes Hong Kong), have a Hollywood production look to them. Something of Scorcese and Coppola on that ground where the Italian American eye with its sensibility for the movement meets visceral action - intensity developing out of violence. In Kar Wai’s world there is little overt violence rather an intensity constructed around a void. An empty middle.
There is no doubt that Wong Kar Wai knows how to frame his pictures: his use of blocked off partial lines of sight and his tracking shots as either reveals or occludes are usually(but not always) effective. And he fills his frame with some beautiful images: in particular the curvaceous forms of his women(with beautiful asses) who are erotically off set in the rich fabric of their costumes and high heels. Wong Kar Wai’s (WKW) composition of tactilely rich settings - fabric wood flesh - sensually energises his film and carries the somewhat weak scenario.
In relation to Scorcese and Coppola their films worked not only because they understood the business of Hollywood in creating films with certain type of style leading out of and made possible by the production values; but also because the style itself was grounded in the articulation of certain aspirational projections of Italian American experience. WKW seems to be directing in a sort of cultural vacuum. Perhaps this what HK is? A culture of passive assimulation. A sort of sponge soaking up indescriminately the cultural influences of East and West. The embodiment of no-place and WKW the conjurer and creator of notional intensities.
‘2046’ feels locked into an introspective vision. A sort of international marketing Hong Kong style. Notionally set in 1960’s the supposedly future year 2046 always feels close to the present. The characters face inwards their faces turned away from the world, with little connection to actual space or time. They are part of the HK bubble world; perhaps making movies out of HK no- place leads politically and socially to a sort of never never land of regressed personal and social relationships ‘…….nothing ever changes here’. WKW doesn’t try to break out of the HK mould, putting in play human relationships to examine HK. His investigations only find that it is a series of closed circuits leading nowhere.
There is a significance to the year 2046. 2046 is the year that the 1997 agreement(one country two systems) concerning the governance of HK, made between the British and the Chinese People’s Republic, ends; 2046 is the last year in which the status of HK as an independent enclave, a separate little statelet, with its own ‘way’ is guaranteed. It is the year when something will change. The year when this little plot of land where nothing changes, will have to change. The year when (perhaps) HK’s internalised circuitry will short out. In the meantime HK is sentenced to this period of introspection - as are her lovers - being nowhere going nowhere.
As the film progressed 2046 evoked memories(sometimes painful)of a certain strand of French romantic films from the 1960’s onwards typified by Lelouche’s un Homme et une Femme(1968) and repeated ad nauseam with their central ideas about the demons that love’s desire always releases to torment and in the end defeat us. These films often had a theme music that would cue key points of the film and were interspersed with much cod philosophising about the nature of love and lovers. The better examples of the genre avoided over use of ‘the music’ and had a certain gusto in the playing and energy in the mis en scene to get them through their paces. All these films took place in a bourgeois bubble world. The personae lived in a stream of endless money cars and apartments -all relationships were bound into the world of the film in which the events of the world were bypassed.
In this sense 2046 is unlike its European precursors in that the social relations are a real reflection of the political matrix form which they evolve. In this case everyone waits for the bubble to burst. But of course it never does.