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Originally published Friday, August 26, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Movie review

Romance and regret, in past and future

Wong Kar-wai's swoonily beautiful "In the Mood for Love," released in 2000, was an ode to love and to restraint: Two people, Mr. Chow...

Seattle Times movie critic

Wong Kar-wai's swoonily beautiful "In the Mood for Love," released in 2000, was an ode to love and to restraint: Two people, Mr. Chow (Tony Leung Chiu-wai) and Mrs. Chan (Maggie Cheung), living in adjacent apartments, are unhappily married to other people in 1962 Hong Kong. They adore each other but cannot conceive of dishonor, and so the romance mostly takes place in lingering looks, delicate touches, words that mean something else, and melancholy strains of music that wrapped itself around the would-be lovers like gentle arms. Unforgettable in its mood and elegance, it was perhaps the finest film of the year.

Now Wong returns with "2046," which picks up where "In the Mood for Love" left off, and then floats away to another plane entirely. The new film doesn't have the jewel-like perfection of "In the Mood," but it shares some of the first film's mesmerizing, almost hypnotic quality — and, like the first film, it's often so visually beautiful that you get lost in it, forgetting the real world. "2046" isn't entirely successful: It's very high-concept and can be difficult to follow. But when it was over, I immediately wanted to watch it again, to dive back into its ravishing pool.

Movie review 3.5 stars


Showtimes and trailer

"2046," with Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Ziyi Zhang, Gong Li, Faye Wong, Maggie Cheung, Chang Chen. Written and directed by Wong Kar-wai. 129 minutes. Rated R for sexual content. In Cantonese/Mandarin/Japanese with English subtitles. Harvard Exit.

Leung, looking emptied-out and sad, is the star of this film, sporting a stringy little mustache that looks like a feeble attempt at suaveness. (Cheung returns only briefly.) Chow, a journalist in the earlier film, is now a writer of pulp fiction, and the film feels like a series of short stories or novellas, told in fevered prose. He's a different man from the first film; he's evolved into a bit of a cad; dissatisfied and angry at the past. Living in a seedy hotel, Chow becomes involved with a series of enigmatic, exquisite women with hurt in their eyes. Their silk cheongsams fit their curves like second skins; their '60s bouffants float on their heads like crowns.

Faye Wong is the landlord's young daughter, in love with a Japanese man. Ziyi Zhang, in a performance infinitely more nuanced and heartbreaking than anything she's ever done on screen, is the call girl in the next room. Gong Li, her posture as straight as a fresh cigarette, plays the gambler Su Li Zhen — which is, mysteriously, the name of the character Cheung played in "In the Mood for Love." Chow tells her that he was once in love with another man's wife, also named Su Li Zhen. "When I think back," he says, "the whole thing was like a dream." He grabs her and kisses her, violently and hungrily; this is no dream.

The film floats between these stories and another, set in a futuristic city in the year 2046, where people can go to recapture lost memories. It's filmed (by the brilliant cinematographer Christopher Doyle, with Kwan Pun Leung and Lai Yiu Fai) with burnished colors and a gauzy softness, as if shot through lace. And the moody music from Nat King Cole (echoes of "In the Mood for Love") and Shigeru Umebayashi suggest romance and nostalgia; a memory now almost gone.

Wong isn't so much a storyteller in these films as a mood creator, and "2046" beautifully creates an atmosphere of romance, passion and regret. In one haunting scene (reminiscent of the carriage scene in another tale of love and restraint, Martin Scorsese's "The Age of Innocence"), the color fades to black and white as we see a man and a woman side by side, perhaps in the back seat of a taxi or bus. His hand, with deliberate, painful slowness, rests on her knee. Her own kid-gloved hand moves it away, ever so gently.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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