The poet laurelate who peeked from behind the muscular neon paraphernalia of As Tears Goes By fully emerges in Wong Kar-wai's ravishing second feature, opening with an irresistible bit -- slick-haired lothario Leslie Cheung gets countertop looker Maggie Cheung to stare at his watch for a full minute. "I'll always remember that minute because of you," he declares. That is no Meet-Cute, but the key into Wong's full-bodied romanticism, where time, or, more specifically, the characters' memory of it, provides them with emotional mementos from a world in continuous flux. Clocks are everywhere, yet for the ladykilling hero time is to be spent mainly lolling languidly in beds with his latest conquests, leaping from shy Cheung to coquettish nightclub wriggler Carina Lau. The rambler's odyssey for a sense of self takes him from Hong Kong to the Philippines and into a spoof of John Woo braggadocio at a barroom melee, but Wong's narrative delights in multiple yearning. Awaiting outside in the rain, lovelorn Maggie bumps into stoically tender cop Andy Lau, and a reverse tracking shot of the two walking and chatting with night lights reflected on the wet street culminates in a stunning shot of missed connections around a phonebooth and "Dream Lover" faintly heard somewhere -- Wong is Godard's spiritual son, but there's something of Jacques Demy's sensitivity to the evanescence of emotions in him, too. The setting is the early '60s, and the overwhelming feel for the past stems not only from the characters' dislocation in an unformed cultural topography, but also from a director's ache in recreating a time that may have never existed in the first place. Christopher Doyle's visuals stay lushly attuned to characters' floating reveries, yet in the end the moment has inevitably passed, slowly tracking through a bluish-green jungle as a rumba reverberates down memory. The last shot validates Wong's nostalgia, particularly as the smoothie primping himself up in front of the mirror turns out to be Tony Leung, to pick up the sublime cha-cha nearly a decade later in In the Mood for Love. With Jacky Cheung, and Rebecca Pan.
--- Fernando F. Croce