This is an amazing film, that gets better with each repeated viewing. "2046" is a hotel room number, which for the hero, Chow, encapsulates his lost love, as it unfolded in the prequel to this movie, "In the Mood for Love." Here, "2046" also becomes a year to which one can travel by a time-machine type of train, a year in which it is believed people can recapture their lost memories. The film consists of the hero, who has loved and lost, going through a series of encounters with women, who in their turn have loved and lost. Throughout his series of experiences with women, he is in fact only looking for his lost love, Su Lizhen, but he can never refind her.
This is a rough, simplified plot synopsis, but the movie is much more complex than this, and it requires repeated viewings to enhance understanding. The repeated viewings are extremely rewarding, as this film is one of those art objects from which the viewer can draw new insights with each reexperiencing of it.
The cinematography is beautiful, and the musical score is absolutely superb and moving, underscoring the emotions felt by the characters. The music is designed to enhance our experience of each scene and to intensify emotion. Granted, the film is not an easy one to follow. Personally, I felt confused at times, especially on a first viewing. But at such moments you can just let yourself go with the emotion carried through image and sound.
"2046" rewards us with a beautiful and talented cast. I really enjoyed watching all the actresses that paraded on screen, among them Zhang Ziyi, of "Hero" and "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon," Gong Li, Carina Lau, Faye Wong and Maggie Cheung, all of them giving superb performances.
As other reviewers have noted, it is not mandatory to see the prequel "In the Mood for Love" to understand "2046," but it is well worth it, as there are many symbols from the previous film repeated in this one, and a scene where Su Lizhen reappears in Chow's memory. Personally, I liked "2046" better.
Finally, I have to add that this film, though from my point of view amazing, is certainly not for everyone. If you prefer a straightforward storyline and a plot where things are happening all the time, then this film is not for you. This film emphasizes emotional experience at the expense of plot. As long as you come prepared for this, and with the right expectations, it is a great film, very rewarding and very worthy of repeated viewings.