Cheongsams. Handbags. Ties. Wonton noodles. A Martial Arts Script. These are some of the articles Wong Kar Wai uses to paint a tale of infidelity. Two next-door neighbours find themselves entrenched in the loneliness an absent partner, and frequently crossing paths on their wonton noodle takeaway routines and solo trips to the cinema. So began their clandestine dates until the other neighbors sniffed something fishy (this is conservative HK in the 1960s). In another plot mirror/parallel, they find out both their absent partners had been cheating with each other, while talking about handbags and ties, uncovering more than what meets the eye as coincidence. I particularly like the camera panning in that scene. The zoomed-in frame swoops back and forth to capture sombre expressions, as the revelation of an affair unfolds.
Cheating and swopping partners are old plot lines. But the cinematography here is stunning. What the director focuses on is reveals cleverness in storytelling. For instance, we hear the voices and feel the impact of the cheating spouses, but have not seen their faces in frame.
The numerous cross-cutting scenes without chronological order or narrative makes you pay attention to draw your own conclusions based on subtle hints. He even revealed the name of the sequel, 2046, the number plate on door of Chow (Tony Leung’s) hotel room door. Music was also artfully employed. Mournful cello music and Nat King Cole’s jazz number, ‘Quizas,Quizas,Quizas’ (perhaps, perhaps,perhaps), amps up the glamour of strolling down the dingy back-alleys of 1960s HK (not forgetting the star power of the leading man and lady, decked out in Cheongsam and a dapper suit). The calculated expressions of emotion between Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung are rather ambiguous and restrained, making the act of cheating seem like a chore.
I thought the dialogue between the couple in focus explored some interesting things about being bound to someone by way of a marriage (contract). To be single, you’re only responsible for your own happiness and success, but in a marriage, the other half’s success or lack of it has a bearing on your personal standing.
The film ends with Tony Leung whispering his repressed feelings of lost love into a stone hollow in the derelict wall in Angkor Wat. After doing so, he stuffs up the crevice with grass and runs away into the distance, burying those secrets forever. It’s a melodramatic and a somewhat amusing sight to see a grown man trusting that a hole in a wall would never betray his secrets.