Dir/scr: Wong kar-wai. HongKong. 2004. 128 mins

The title may suggest aspace age drama but Wong Kar-Wai's long-awaited 2046 proves to be anelaborate, languorous continuation of In The Mood For Love that revisitsthe Tony Leung character as he once again struggles with the impermanence andimpossibility of true love. The restraint and repression of the earlier filmare replaced by an intense rush of passion, pain and pleasure but the heart isdoomed to suffer just as much as before.

Told with sulphurous style,this doesn't have the precision or poise of In The Mood For Love but itsmixture of gorgeous imagery, hypnotic storytelling, heartbreak and politicalresonance will make this one of the major arthouse titles of the yearespecially if it wins the Palme D'Or as many were predicting after its firstCannes press screening.

Less instantly accessiblethan In The Mood For Love, 2046 is almost misleading in the wayit sets up a futuristic story in which a mysterious train transports people toa place where they can recapture lost memories. 2046, of course, is theeve of the fiftieth anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong to China. Whoknows what that event may hold, what will have changed and what will remain ofa past that many might want to revisit in their romanticised memories.

It is just a work offiction, of course, that writer Chow Mo Wan (Leung) creates from aspects of hisown life in the way that he also created stories in In The Mood For Love.

Pitched at an operaticlevel from the very beginning, the film loosely unfolds in the second half ofthe 1960s, several years after the brief encounter that formed the basis of In TheMood For Love.

Bruised and battered bylove, Chow Mo Wan now pursues a playboy lifestyle in which romantic commitmentis largely confined to the pleasures of one night stands.

The relationship with BaiLing (Zhang Ziyi) promises to be different. They seem to have the measure ofeach other - playful and flirting in the manner of a Bogart and Bacall beforetumbling into mad, passionate sex. There is the promise of something deeperthat is constantly sabotaged by a cruel act or callous gesture. There is nevera moment when they are both willing to commit everything at the same time andthey suffer accordingly over what might have been. "I just want us to bedrinking pals," he states at the first sign that they could be something more.They continue to scratch at their attraction like an open wound that theycannot bear to see heal.

There are otherrelationships, real and perhaps even imagined, with Lulu (Carina Lau Ka Ling)and with a woman from his past Su Li Zhen (Gong Li).

The film is played like aconcertina of time periods and characters that expands and retracts aroundsuccessive Christmas eves. The festive season is marked by traditional songsfrom Dean Martin and Nat King Cole whose velvety tones added so much to InThe Mood For Love.

2046 may not be as crystalclear and coherent as some viewers may wish but it shares the same core storyof In The Mood For Love in which two people cannot find a way to makelove work for them. Everything else is almost a reflection, expansion orillustration of what is embodied in that central relationship and leads to theconclusion that something must change for Chow Mo Wan if he is to avoid aneternity as an emotionally hollow victim of love, pining, like F ScottFitzgerald's Gatsby, for the one that got away.

Using three directors ofphotography, among them Christopher Doyle, Wong has created a typicallyravishing film that satiates the senses with the way it sculpts light andshadow, the richness of its colour palette and the attention to detail in allthose plumes of billowing cigarette smoke, glistening skins and carefullystruck poses that might come straight from a Jack Vettriano painting. It is notjust an exercise in style and sensuality. It also has warmth and substance anda desire to engage the brain as well as touch the heart.

Viewers will have plenty toanalyse and debate over the film's metaphorical and political significance, especiallyas Wong has included newsreel footage of street riots in the 1960s and keepsrepeating that things need to change if the mistakes of the past are to beovercome.

Prod cos: Block 2 Pictures, ParadisFilms, Orly Films, Classics SRL, Shanghai Film Group Corporation
Int'l sales:
Fortissimo Film Sales
ChristopherDoyle, Lai Yiu Fai, Kwan Pun Leung
Prod des/
ed:William Chang Suk-Ping
Music: Peer Raben, ShigeruUmebayashi
Main cast:
Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Gong Li, Faye Wong, Kimura Takuya, Zhang Ziyi,Carina Lau Ka Ling, Chang Chen, Maggie Cheung Man Yuk