I finally got around to watching 2046 (2004), the third film in Wong Kar-wai's loosely connected trilogy, following Days of Being Wild (1990) and In the Mood for Love (2000). Those two, along with Wong's Chungking Express (1994), are among my favorite films. And I think the only reason I waited so long to watch 2046 was that I didn't want to be disappointed.
I wasn't disappointed. It's quite good, often in the same ways that made the first two films exceptional. It's "about how a man faces his future due to a certain past," as Wong put it, and it's told in different parts. The main focus for most of the film is on Chow Mo-wan (Tony Leung Chiu-wai) several years after his affair with Su Li-zhen in Hong Kong (see In the Mood for Love). In 2046, playboy Chow moves into room 2047 (since 2046 isn't available due to renovations) in the Oriental Hotel, and there he writes articles and fiction. He drinks a lot, to forget or to remember, and goes through lots of women.
He also falls in love with three of them at different times: Bai Ling (Zhang Ziyi), a cabaret girl who lives for a while in room 2046. Wang Jing-wen (Faye Wong), who's in love with a Japanese man and is daughter to the hotel's owner (he despises the Japanese because of the war), and the "Black Spider"—a second Su Li-zhen (Gong Li), who has a talent for gambling and wins money for Chow.
Chow also meets Lulu (Carina Lau), from Days of Being Wild.
There are steamy scenes as well as Wong's brilliant and singular blends of colors and mise-en-scène and pace and framing and angles. Ziyi stands out for her performance, and she stands out in a big way, able to express myriad nuances of emotions seamlessly.
The film also tells the story of a man Chow created for one of his novels (also entitled 2046). He is Japanese. His name is Tak (played by Takuya Kimura), and he's the only person to have ever escaped "2046," a futuristic place where nothing ever changes and there is no sadness or loss, and where many try to get to in order to find their lost loves. Tak, who is something of Chow's alter ego, is en route to 2046 on what seems like a never-ending train ride. The train is serviced by gynoids, and Tak makes an attempt at intimacy towards one (played by Faye Wong) before realizing the feeling isn't mutual.
In short, the film is great but doesn't reach the same sublime status as Wong's first two films in the trilogy. I probably made the mistake of watching them in the wrong order (II, I, then III) and months apart. I do want to watch them again and (note to self here) in the right order next time and within a day or two.