A Memory of Love

Wong Kar-Wei is a name that dazzles the cinematographic bones of film lovers.  For those who don't subscribe to Cineaste or Film Comment, the name probably means absolutely nothing.  For then, pity is the appropriate emotion. 

Gong Li

The director's latest opus, 2046, a sci-fi and period piece hybrid, took center stage at the Los Angeles Film Festival Saturday night. 

For those unfamiliar with the films of wkw (as Kar-Wei is sometimes known), the film could quite possibly be a confusing blend of genres that seems impenetrable, disjointed, vapid, and unending.  However, filmgoers who are willing to completely immerse themselves in something different will be in for a treat. 

The framework for the story is in the future, a man tries to leave 2046 since no one who goes there ever changes or comes back.  He is the sole exception to that rule.  However, as he rides a never-ending train ride away from 2046, he goes back into his memories, searching to learn what he lost and discover how love--and his refusal to embrace it, turned him into the lonely man he is. 

Tony Leung

This seemingly complicated setup, at first, merely appears to be a tool to get back to the setting of In the Mood for Love, wkw's most recent masterpiece of unrequited love.  Though it seems dismissive, unfair, and very 'Hollywood' to call it so, 2046 initially appears to be a sequel to the film.  However, 2046 is much more ambitious in size and scope than Mood.  It begins near the end of Mood as Chow Mo Wan (Tony Leung), the film's narrator, leaves his neighbor, Su Li Zhen (Maggie Cheung). 

He takes a room at a local boarding hotel and over the years meets a cavalcade of beauties.  Being a swinging bachelor in the 60s, the narrator of the film meets, wines, dines, seduces, and beds the women, including Carina Lau, Ziyi Zhang, and Gong Li.  Though they all fall for him, he appears impervious to their charms, whiles, and beauty.  He is alone and destined to stay that way. 

Ziyi Zhang

The script uses this set up to examine the importance of memory in our lives as a self-construct and romantic enabler.  The film, awash in beautiful color provided by the cinematography of Christopher Doyle and Kwan Pun Leung, as well as the production design of William Chang, pulls the viewer into a painting where questions are asked relentlessly.  Are we capable of experiencing love if we don't remember what it feels like?  Will holding onto a memory of love keep us from ever feeling it again?  When can a memory be so powerful that it subconsciously summons the universe to restore the world back into balance?  Who do we become when we fail to let go of a memory?

The film provides no easy answers.  Ultimately, it does propose a theory, but to say that it suggests that love is the answer is much too cliche for the film's complexities and the methods it uses to get to the finale.  The film haunts and slowly creeps into your soul and takes up residence, invading your memory' waiting to see who you will become.

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