ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar Wai brought his film "2046" to the Cannes Film Festival last year so late that it missed its first screening and so unfinished that it left audiences cold. A year has passed, and critic Bob Mondello says that Wong Kar Wai has used the time wisely.
BOB MONDELLO reporting:
A bullet train hurdles through an eerie futuristic landscape in the opening seconds of "2046." It's headed for the year 2046, a year in which we're told nothing ever changes.
(Soundbite of "2046"; bullet train)
Unidentified Woman: (Screams) Get out of the way!
Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)
MONDELLO: 2046--if you saw Wong Kar Wai's moody atmospheric drama "In the Mood for Love" a few years back, you may remember that the two leads almost committed adultery in a room with that number. And just for the record, 2046 will be the last year before Hong Kong, once a British colony, reverts entirely to Chinese control, all of which suggests that the director is up to more than meets the eye in his latest film. But what meets the eye is plenty satisfying on its own: exquisite images of seduction and longing and beauty amid squalor. The camera hangs on the high neck of a Chinese gown, the curve of a banister, echoed in wallpaper, repeated in a swirl of hair and often accompanied by a surging, pulsing score.
(Soundbite of "2046")
Unidentified Man #2: (Foreign language spoken) 2046.
MONDELLO: The film does have a plot of sorts, though not one that's either linear or easy to follow. It has to do with a 1960s journalist named Chow, played by Tony Leung, who holes up in a dilapidated hotel and works on science-fiction stories when he's not bedding and abandoning the most gorgeous women in Hong Kong. One of them lives right next door, a hooker who falls so hard for Chow that at one point she pays him. Her story may seem central, but she's only one of many exquisite creatures in Chow's life: the hotel owner's teen-age daughter, a mysterious gambler who wears one black glove, female androids in his science-fiction stories who can only counterfeit affection.
These women are played by a virtual galaxy of Asian stars, which adds to the glamor, of course: Maggie Cheung from "In the Mood for Love"; Gong Li from "Farewell My Concubine" and others, each filmed with an eye to making them shimmer as brightly as the vivid silks they're forever slipping out of.
Director Wong Kar Wai embraces beauty with a passion so all-consuming it leads him away from coherence at times. It's not always clear just where or when something's happening. The director is an image collector, following characters into oddly lit alleyways, watching smoke curl from cigarettes, collaging and assembling a film in which every frame could be hung in an art gallery. It's a genuine aesthetic rush and a tad opaque. So go forewarned and let "2046" wash over you rather than trying too hard to decipher it. I'm Bob Mondello.
(Soundbite of "2046" music)
MELISSA BLOCK (Host): This is NPR, National Public Radio.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.