Those watching Wong Kar-Wai's latest Hong Kong opus are confused about it: is 2046's Chow, the mustached, womanizing, pulp-writer protagonist, the same character as the cleanfaced, non-literary Chow, whose exta-marital desires remain platonic, in Wong's previous In the Mood for Love? Both Chows are acted by the wonderful Tony Leung.
"The characters should be totally different," Wong insisted at a press conference following 2046's world premiere at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival, and then he contradicted himself. "But as I tried to change things, they kept reminding me of before. Like my characters, the more you try to forget, the more you remember. So you should just live with it. That's the message of the film."
Leung: "The first day the director, Wong, came to me and said that this is the same characer as In the Mood for Love, with the same name, the same hairdo, but play it differently. I said, can I have a mustache, so I can feel like a new man? He wanted me to do a Bukowski character, complicated, mean, but with an angel face."
"We started with Bukowski and ended with Clark Gable," Wong joked. "I get all these questions about the mustache. But you see, that's not my problem."
Does Chow err in his latest incarnation, rebuffing a woman who deeply loves him?
"He's not making just one mistake," Wong replied. "He makes lots of mistakes. He rejects a woman, but he's rejected by a woman. There are so many chances we miss in life, and all we have left are the memories."
Wong is notorious for drastically changing his movies as he shoots, frustrating his performers, and for tinkering with the editing until the last possible moment. Nobody was surprised that 2046 arrived at Cannes several days after it was supposed to be shown, forcing an end-of-the-festival Competition screening. "This film is very complicated," Wong explained his lateness. "We had to use three different companies-- France, Hong Kong, China--and we had to reshoot images to match backgrounds. We also had problems at the finish with special effects. We should say that this version is complete, the final editing, and we put an end to the project. We had to give up some things. I'm very glad there'll be a DVD, so someday we'll get all the performances.
"The joke was, 'When will the film be finished?' 'In 2046.' That joke is over. I'm so glad."
(Boston Phoenix, September, 2005)