American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Jam yesterday and jam tomorrow, but never jam today. -- Alice in Wonderland
It is always too early or too late for love in a Wong Kar Wai film, and his characters spend their days in yearnings and regrets. "In the Mood for Love" (2001) brought that erotic sadness to a kind of perfection in its story of a man and a woman who live in hotel rooms next to each other, and want to become lovers but never do, because his wife and her husband are lovers, and "for us to do the same thing would mean we are no better than they are." Yes, but no worse, and perhaps happier. Isn't it strange, that most of the truths about love are banal?
"2046," Wong's new film, is an indirect, oblique continuation of the earlier one. It stars Tony Leung as Chow Mo Wan, also the name of his character in "In the Mood for Love," and there is a brief role for Maggie Cheung, his co-star in that film; they are not necessarily playing the same characters. There was also a room 2046 in the other film, so there are subterranean connections between the two, but they operate something like the express train to the year 2046 in this one: All memories are there in the future, we are told, but no one has ever returned.
No one, except for the narrator, who tells us about it. We gather that "2046" is the name of a science fiction novel being written by Chow. It is also the room next to his in the hotel where much of this movie takes place -- a room lived in by a series of women he loves. Not coincidentally, 2046 is also the year set by China for the expiration of Hong Kong's quasi-independence from the mainland. Does that make the movie "2046" a parable about Hong Kong? You could find parallels, I'm sure, but that doesn't seem to be the point. Chow observes that if he hadn't seen the number 2046 on a room, he wouldn't have started his futuristic novel, and it is just barely possible that Wong is telling us this movie was inspired when he asked himself what happened in Room 2046 after "In the Mood for Love" was over. Or before it began. Whatever.