Several weeks ago, long before I'd seen 2046, I became transfixed by the signature image from that film-- Ziyi Zhang posing in a beautiful black cheongsam, arching her back slightly, hand on hip, and looking down just past the camera with a mixture of sexual precociousness and disdain. It ended up as desktop wallpaper on my computer at work (where it still reigns); my wife procured a beautiful glossy still of said image for me on eBay, far more than suitable for framing; and I have posted it twice already, once in conjunction with comments about the film, and once because I just wanted to. (I will not post it again, for fear of being labeled dangerously unbalanced, but I will direct you to it here, just in case scrolling down a few articles to find it is just a little too much physical activity for you at the moment.)
Not long after I put it on my work computer, I mentioned to my wife (who sits right next to me every day, toiling away at the same trade) that I believed the image would one day be seen as a great iconic image of the cinema, right up there with Marilyn Monroe standing over the subway grating, skirt making for the heavens, in The Seven Year Itch. Fast forward a few weeks to this past Wednesday, when the Village Voice published an essay by Graham Fuller, Sunday arts editor at the New York Daily News and film columnist for Interview magazine, asserting, in a lovely and perceptive appreciation, that very status for the Ziyi Zhang still (which was, as Fuller informs us, not a still frame from the film, but a photograph shot on set during the filming by Hong Kong photographer and graphic artist Wing Shya).
Fuller goes back even further than Monroe to link the power of the Zhang pose with that of the iconic image of Marlene Dietrich from Josef von Sternberg's seminal classic The Blue Angel:
"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). 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."
The rest of Fuller's essay is as intriguing and perceptive as that previous paragraph is evocative and profoundly observant. The author is right in suggesting that the image of Ziyi Zhang that has become indelibly associated with 2046, its meanings, its erotic power and its foreboding emotionalism espouses "the kind of tantalizing erotic mystery that movies themselves seldom project these days." That's one reason why it is worth seeking out the few remaining theaters playing 2046 as summer officially turns to fall (it has one more day-- today, Thursday, September 22-- at the Laemmle One Colorado Cinemas in Pasadena, and starting Friday the only place you can see it on the big screen in Southern California is at Laemmle's Monica on 2nd Street in Santa Monica, at 11:00 a.m.!). After the movie disappears from cinemas, Fuller's article itself will stand as a potent, romantic and brilliant reminder of why seeing 2046 in any format-- DVD is next, obviously-- should be on everyone's to-do list in 2005.