Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Movies: 2046 (2004, U.S. 2005), Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002, U.S. 2005)

These movies are linked for one reason: I saw them on the same day. Being a film buff is not for the faint of heart. Sometimes, to catch what’s interesting, you’ve got to double up, to adopt a festival mindset on what is otherwise an ordinary Saturday.

Sometimes, this approach pays off in spades.

I’d heard the stories about 2046, the latest from Wong Kar-Wai. The protracted production, the missed festival screenings, the wedge it drove into the relationship between the director and his greatest collaborator, the cinematographer Christopher Doyle.

Whatever went on, it was worth it. 2046 stuns. It’s a singular, transporting experience.

I could say it’s a quasi-sequel to 2000’s IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE, but what would be the point? There’s a plot of sorts, but why go into it? Like all of Wong’s movies, it’s about desire, pain, and the moments when they overlap, whether they occur in late 1960s Hong Kong or the distant future.

It’s also about immersing yourself in an atmosphere, a feeling. To accuse Wong of favoring style over substance, as some critics have, misses the point. At his best, he’s a master of style as substance. He can express longing through the drape of a woman’s dress, convey a desperate romantic ache through the play of colors on screen. He sublimates emotions until the most intense of them – heartsickness, obsession – can be studied up close, like a cool, smooth pebble to be slipped into the pocket of a perfectly cut pair of slacks.

On top of that, you’ve got the actors. Zhang Ziyi, Gong Li, Faye Wong and Maggie Cheung, plus Tony Leung for the ladies. A more attractive cast you will never find.

Chan-wook Park’s film OLDBOY did more than make an impression on me. It may have left a mark. (It’s available on DVD now. Go get it!) I wasn’t about to pass up the chance to see his 2002 effort SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE at the Northwest Film Forum.

A thriller about a botched kidnapping, VENGEANCE isn’t as baroquely structured as OLDBOY. And while the director’s flair for startling images and plot twists is in evidence, he doesn’t employ them to the same devastating effect. But VENGEANCE is still a grueling, intense movie in which every shock is tied to genuine emotion. There are two characters who could be Mr. Vengeance in this movie, and you feel sympathy for both of them.

Plus, there were walkouts. Walkouts are always a good sign.

I spent Saturday morning working on a screenplay, then Rosemarie and I went out for a late lunch. After seeing these two extraordinary movies we met friends for sweet potato hush puppies and bourbon. As I turned in that night I realized that, for one day at least, I was living the life I had fantasized about when I was a teenager, stuck in a small Florida town.