Clueless Critic on Wong Kar Wai's 2046
From The Village Voice by Graham Fuller:
"Before Wong Kar-wai's 2046 opened here last month, it was heralded by a still of Zhang Ziyi espousing the kind of tantalizing erotic mystery that movies themselves seldom project these days. It might prove the most iconic image to have appeared since Marlene Dietrich was photographed leaning back on a beer barrel—to display a meaty thigh and her dreamy detachment from the febrile desire she elicits—during the winter 1929–30 UFA production of Josef von Sternberg's The Blue Angel."
In a film with Faye Wong, Gong Li and Carine Lau (albeit a minor role), this critic only notices Zhang Ziyi? And he positions Zhang Ziyi as some Asian Marlene Dietrich-ish icon?
I am much aggrieved.
Marlene Dietrich is an ICON of the ages. With her still "come hither" eyes she corrupted men and women alike. And Dietrich in life possessed the balls of twenty men. She spoke up against Hitler and the fascist government. Branded a traitor, she left her motherland and performed for American troops in defiance. Zhang Ziyi does not even come close to Dietrich.
"There she stands then, in a spangled black cheongsam, a noirish totem of sexual aloofness, in her room, 2046, at Hong Kong's Oriental Hotel. Her upper lip is cast in shadow as it separates provocatively from its neighbor. Her neatly coiffed head is cocked slightly to her left at an angle that would seem quizzical if it didn't seem she knows all the damn answers (in fact, she has none)."
Perpetually clueless, even in Hero - that's quite Zhang Ziyi actually. At least he gets that right.
"She has, meanwhile, arrayed herself in insolent contrapposto: Her right hand is spread on her right hip in such a way that it crooks the arm at a 90-degree angle at the elbow; her left hand caresses her abdomen with the scarlet-tipped fingers at 10 o'clock (much too early for bed in mid-'60s Hong Kong). This accentuates not the curve of her back, as the New York Times review headline euphemistically put it, but the prominence of her bust, which must be pressing painfully against her too tight sheath—a clear mark of masochism. The pose echoes Dietrich's akimbo stances in The Blue Angel and especially Sternberg's 1932 Blonde Venus. It's an advertisement, a challenge, and a taunt.
I've seen store window mannequins with similar poses. As for the too-tight cheong sum bust, I believe Zhang Ziyi gets no love from her tailor.
"Her rapt narcissism, born of insecurity, and her na doom her to fall unrequitedly in love with Chow [Tony Leung's character]"
Firstly, what is her "na"? A quick web search gives "Na" as the chemical symbol for sodium. Methinks some critic typeth too fast on the keyboard.
But back to Zhang Ziyi.
Zhang Ziyi represents the generation of untalented (but oddly successful) performers filling up the screens these days. She possesses the kind of bland, uninspiring face that I want to slap. Kind of like Paris Hilton.
To quote WW:
"Zhang Ziyi gets no love from Wong Kar Wai and Christopher Doyle."
Zhang Ziyi, posed like a store window mannequin, is a prop, a disposable one. In the film, Tony Leung callously uses then dumps Zhang Ziyi. But because it is only Zhang Ziyi, Tony remains the Soulful Beloved to the audience. Afterall, it's not someone we care about, say Gong Li's Black Widow Su Lizhen.
In her all-too-brief appearance, Gong Li memerises. She too, wears THE BLACK CHEONG SUM - but with the single black glove, never explained. And that single black glove is all the essence of the Wong Kar Wai heroine.
The lighting on Gong Li is stark, drawing out the exquisite beauty that is her profile in distinct lines. Yet the character drifts across the screen, smoky and elusive. One wishes Wong Kar Wai will shoot a movie all on her character alone.
A professional gambler, she tells Tony Leung never to gamble when he is depressed. "You will never win," she intones, knowing. One surmises she has lost too many times in her life.
When Tony Leung asks Gong Li to leave with him, she does not. She knows she is not the True Beloved of Tony Leung. She knows when she cannot win. In taking herself out of the game, she preserves herself.
And that is why Gong Li is a Wong Kar Wai heroine.
I will not get into Faye Wong's character right now. Because Faye Wong is most fun in Chungking Express and 2046 does her no justice.
Graham Fuller, I forgive you your ignorance because you are American. You have no idea Zhang Ziyi is the punchline Asian directors offer to the joke that is Hollywood.