Watching 2046 made me think of a book I’m reading. It’s a writing book called Bird by Bird and one of the writing principles it frequently refers to (as do many other books on writing) is how characters need space to grow the same way dogs and horses do. An author can lay out the most precise, detailed plot outline but if her characters resist their prescribed paths then their story will ring false. If an author can allow her characters to make their own decisions and the plot tags along for the ride, then every word and detail will add to the story’s natural depth and richness.
Much of this pervading sense of authenticity must be credited to Kar Wai Wong’s habit of filming without detailed scripts. Male lead Tony Leung, dubbed the “Asian Clark Gable,” describes acting sans script as “demanding” but also notes how “it keeps me from thinking and allows me to just be in my character.” His powerful performance, smoothly flowing from light-hearted to ruthlessly arrogant and everywhere in between, reflects the truth of his words.
Previously I described 2046 as “an emotional gauntlet with a Chinese/Japanese pseudo sci-fi twist.” I’m not sure if this description makes much sense, but I refuse to describe the story in any more detail. This isn’t because I’m being cruel or a tease but I think you will better enjoy this film with an open mind.
If I haven't made this clear yet, 2046 isn’t for everyone. It is introspective in the extreme and what it lacks in bombs and explosions it more than compensates in regret and tears. There are also periods of tenderness and even happiness, but no more then you would expect of troubled characters given the freedom to live out their own troubled lives.