2046 — ** 1/2 — Tony Leung, Ziyi Zhang, Gong Li; with English subtitles for Chinese dialects; rated R (sex, violence, vulgarity, brief gore); see Page W2 for theaters.
Though it's not made completely clear until the final third or so of the movie, "2046" is actually a sequel of sorts to Chinese director Kar Wai Wong's well-regarded 2000 drama "In the Mood for Love."
Knowledge of that movie isn't required here, but some familiarity with it might give audiences an idea of what to expect from this sometimes muddled and confusing but beautiful-looking follow-up effort.
As with "Mood," the pacing is a bit slow (certainly by Hollywood standards). It also feels considerably colder and more mechanical than its predecessor, which makes "2046" more of an acquired taste.
The film's title refers to the number on a Hong Kong hotel room, as well as to the futuristic date of a series of science-fiction stories written by Chow Mo-wan (Tony Leung).
Having loved and lost earlier (see "Mood"), Chow is apparently content to live out his life as a playboy. In fact, his relationships now consist of either one-night stands or short-lived flings with the women who have been staying in the room in question.
They include an ill-fated woman from his past (Carina Lau), the troubled daughter (Faye Wang) of the hotel owner and Bai Ling (Ziyi Zhang), who longs for a more serious relationship with Chow. Unfortunately, he's apparently still pining for Su Li-Zhen, the unhappily married woman who broke his heart.
This is where the film gets really confusing — Gong Li plays a character here called Su Li-Zhen, but she's apparently not the same person, while Maggie Cheung, who played Su Li-Zhe in the first film, has a completely different role from her character in the first film (she shows up here in one of the brief fantasy sequences about Chow's fictional work).
The film is beautifully shot (longtime Wong collaborator Christopher Doyle is one of three credited cinematographers), and all the '60s-period costuming (which are specific to the main parts of the movie) is very handsome. That helps make the movie more watchable.
Still, Wong seems to be doing all he can to make us dislike Leung's Chow, who plays the character as the polar opposite of the version shown in "Mood." And given Zhang's lively turn as Bai, you have to think her character could do better.
"2046" is rated R for scenes of simulated sex and other sexual contact, some brief violence (including self-destructive acts), some crude sexual talk and use of other vulgar slang terms, and some brief gore. Running time: 123 minutes.