“Writing is a way to have a dialogue with yourself. You can never compete with something in the past, in memory. Like some people said, we love what we can’t have. In this world, the end becomes the beginning. It’s very unfair for anyone around him [Tony] in the present, because they can never compete with his imagination or his memory. We love what we can’t have, and we can’t have what we love.“
Since I spent Friday evening watching In the Mood for Love — a tale of a romance-that-almost-was, told in furtive hallway glances — and 2046 — a broader and more diffuse disquisition on love and heartache — back-to-back, here’s an intriguing 2004 interview with director Wong Kar-Wai on how they fit together: “Mood is a chapter in 2046. It’s like 2046 is a big symphony, and Mood is one of its movements.” Maybe so, but I’m glad I saw them as I did. At first Tony Leung’s Chow in 2046, a dissolute, world-weary rake, seemed eons apart from the quiet, somewhat nervous journalist of ITMFL. But the films are clearly meant to be taken as a piece. From its first images (hole, train) to its last (taxi, hole), 2046 dwells on the corrosive consequences for Chow of ITMFL: The memory of Su (Maggie Cheung), bottled up in the tree, is eating Chow alive…hence, the whole otherwise-non sequitur sci-fi subplot (ITMFL told again, by Chow to himself) involving the indecisive android. (Um, the last few sentences make more sense if you’ve seen the films, but only slightly.)
Now I really kinda wished I’d watched Days of Being Wild, the first part of Wong’s trilogy, before these two. But then again, however sumptuously filmed (these movies are absolutely gorgeous to look at), and however tempered by the presence of several stunningly beautiful actresses (Cheung, Zhang Zi Yi, Gong Li, Faye Wong), there’s only so much exquisite melancholy I can take in a given evening. By the end of this extended tale of romance and loss, I had half a mind to just curl up in a ball and drift amid a sea of despond for the rest of the night, lost in the phantom reverie that was both the allure and prison of “2046” in 2046. Even stronger was the urge to light a cigarette and watch the tendrils of smoke slowly writhe and curl through a shaft of light, preferably to the strands of some vintage Nat King Cole. If nothing else, these very worthwhile films suggest, if you’re going to ruminate on old heartaches, you might as well look really good doing it.