2046 (Wong Kar Wai). 129 minutes. Opens Friday (August 12). Subtitled. For venues and times, see Movies, page 90. Rating: NNNN
There really is a difference between a Wong Kar Wai film and a perfume commercial, but it's getting harder to spot.
Unbelievers have long criticized his Hong Kong swoon operas for sacrificing plot sense to linger on how a lovesick woman looks in a fitted cheongsam under a street lamp on a rainy night. Believers know better. Believers watch Chungking Express and especially In The Mood For Love for the rush of infatuation, the ache of loss and the intense pleasure of regret. If it's perfume, they - we - have swallowed it.
2046 is Chanel No. 5000. Concentrated and intoxicating, it's a sensory swirl that defies plot synopsis. Wong returns to mid-60s Hong Kong, where Tony Leung is a writer falling into doomed but intense affairs with Gong Li , Faye Wong and the electric Ziyi Zhang . He's also writing a science fiction story that slips into the film.
Because Wong rewrites his script as he shoots, his stories inevitably lack an airtight structure. What 2046 offers instead is romantic stoicism, the opportunity to worship stars and astonishing image-making from three cinematographers, including long-time collaborator Chris Doyle . You won't see a more beautiful succession of images anywhere this year. Is it a good movie? Smell the perfume.