Wong Kar-Wai would have made a great silent film director, his brilliant use of music more suited to live orchestral accompaniment than mere soundtrack. Many portions of "2046" are shot MOS since any dialogue would have been rendered redundant to his visual feast. Wong uses words only when necessary, lending them a higher importance for their rarity, each phrase a pearl in his oyster of images. Knowing when not to use words is the mark of a true poet.
In the tradition of Terence Malick, Wong Kar-Wai spends less time making films than in making them count. He packs so many elements into each movie that they overflow the frame, each work saturated beyond the breaking point into art. His lead actors Tony Leung and Zhang Ziyi have flawless chemistry, Leung actually proving more the muse than Zhang. Leung’s shy, delighted, charming smile that anticipates the question “Are you waiting for me?” is so effortlessly natural, cementing Leung’s reputation as one of the most believable actors working today. He’s an old-time star like Clark Gable, able to invest the line “I used to have a happy ending in me but I let it slip away” with heartbreaking nonchalance. You can feel how much the actors adore working together, that the emotion is true. They know every twitch of Mr. Chow and Ms. Ling, how they are experts in using politeness as a form of cruelty, stabbing one another with niceties. The actors are so invested in one another that the audience is left with no other choice than to also be.
The best art serves as a flashlight into the viewer’s own soul. We see ourselves reflected in the character of Mr. Chow who in turn sees his own reflection in the character of Su Li Zhen. Relationships are just one endless funhouse mirror in Wong’s world as well as ours. The director’s a throwback to the thinkers of the French New Wave who meditated on big ideas rather than self. (Big ideas would always boil back down to self anyway and it’s lazy directors choosing to take this navel-gazing shortcut that’s destroying the art film!)
The sequences of "2046" are short movies in their own right – adding up to a breathtaking, mesmerizing masterpiece. The themes of emotion sneaking up on you, not knowing how you feel until it’s too late, secure Wong Kar-Wai’s universality. People go to the futuristic "2046" to retrieve lost memories but never come back, stuck in a past they willingly sought. “Maybe one day you’ll escape your past. If you do, look for me,” Mr. Chow tells Li Gong’s Su Li Zhen. I hope Wong Kar-Wai never escapes "2046" if it’s birthing such modern-day classics as this.