(2004)4Derek ArmstrongBecause it wasn't advertised as a sequel to In the Mood for Love ("sequel" being a pedestrian Hollywood term that wouldn't apply), Wong Kar-Wai's 2046 might frustrate confused viewers who weren't aware there was a crucial first chapter. But even those who saw Wong's beautiful and elegiac treatise on love will be a little frustrated by 2046, particularly literalists in search of narrative fluidity or character catharsis. It's not that much of a sci-fi movie; the title alludes to a hotel room number more than a year, although as a year, it has a secondary function that never quite crystallizes. But it's still in the same category as films like Steven Soderbergh's Solaris and Steven Spielberg's A.I. -- films whose existential agendas divided their audiences, enrapt devotees on one side, bitter detractors on the other. What's indisputable is that 2046 is the ultimate tone poem, and since Wong is a master of tone, it can be a transporting experience. The trio of cinematographers (including the acclaimed Christopher Doyle, reprising from Mood) brings a dreamy look to the film that's entrancing. The soft focus and slow wandering of the camera has the effect of making love to the actors and scenery, oozing in for private glimpses, from strange angles. The film is a technical masterpiece that perfectly underscores Wong's themes, and Tony Leung makes an effortlessly sympathetic guide, even when his character's actions seem amoral. It's the film's substance that will give pause to some viewers. The narrative is structured strangely, spending ample time on a woman (Zhang Ziyi) he doesn't care about, but skimping on the exposition with the two women he supposedly adores. Like the thematic cousins mentioned earlier, 2046 also comes dangerously close to pretentiousness -- which may be the defining difference from the sweet simplicity of In the Mood for Love.