"2046" shows that the Chinese director Wong Kar-Wai is still in the mood for love. Using the same characters as his famous "In the Mood for Love," he watches as a writer eats, drinks and makes merry in the Hong Kong of the '60s, about the same time writer Marcello Mastroianni was eating, drinking and making merry in Rome in Fellini's "81/2," which this film resembles intensely. Tony Leung Chiu Wai repeats as the writer and journalist Chow Mo Wan, and, as in "Mood," he is having a fling with a beautiful woman; but he has time as well for the prostitute next door in Room 2046 (he's in Room 2047), Bai Ling, played by the wondrous Ziyi Zhang in her best contemporary role.

She's pretty much the whole movie -- funny, spunky, fiery, erotic, simply wonderful, and it's hard to sympathize with Chow, who values her less than every man, woman and child in the audience.

Kar-Wai is a moody filmmaker, more interested in rapture and yearning and other intense emotional states than in precise narrative. The movie travels through time, sometimes flashing ahead to the imagined future from the writer's stories. That aspect is probably the movie's least promising, though we can see from the scant sci-fi tales the true emotional issues of Chow's life in the late '60s. But just as often he flashes back to this or that memory, one of them of a shadowy encounter with Gong Li as a gambling gal in one black glove, who met the writer at a casino and used her luck and skill to help him.

You keep wanting the movie to add up to more than it does, but still, as a kind of erotic fever dream, instead of a straight-ahead story, it's provocative if a little long.

-- Stephen Hunter