This 1994 film from ace Hong Kong film-maker Wong Kar-Wai is an amazing piece of cinema. Quite frankly, given the film's obvious nods to the 'video generation' of film-makers, it is something I might ordinarily detest, but somehow Wong has instead produced an enigmatic and poignant gem. In fact, despite the obvious qualities of much of Wong's other works, perhaps most notably 2000's In The Mood For Love, Chungking Express remains my personal favourite of his films.
Of course, the film (along with many others from this director) has been accused of being a representation of style over substance and, whilst I would agree his innovative style and approach is very much an acquired taste, the simple love stories at the heart of Chungking Express are, for me, brilliantly evocative and poignant, in this respect almost (but not quite) placing the film on a par with a masterpiece such as Jean Vigo's L'Atalante. The other outstanding feature of the film is the vibrant use of music (here featuring The Mamas And The Papas' California Dreamin and Faye Wong's brilliant cover of The Cranberries' Dreams, along with songs by Dennis Brown and Dinah Washington), making it along with Michael Winterbottom's Wonderland (featuring its Michael Nyman score), my favourite film/soundtrack combination of the last 20 years.
The narrative of Chungking Express (such as it is) follows two love stories - the first featuring Cop 223, the love-struck, but jilted, He Zhiwu, played with youthful innocence by Takeshi Kaneshiro, who happens upon a glamorous, sunglasses-wearing drug dealer and murderer, played with a sultry world-weariness by Brigitte Lin. The second amorous tale features the world-wise Cop 663, played with suave 'essence of cool' by Wong-regular Tony Leung, who has also been ditched by his glamorous air hostess girlfriend, only to become the target of obsession for diminutive, eccentric noodle bar worker Faye, played with an infectious exuberance by Chinese singer Faye Wong (who, for me, delivers the film's standout performance).
These two stories or, perhaps more accurately, series of vignettes are presented by Wong in his typical rambunctious style, particularly during the first episode which is peppered with fast moving hand-held camera shots, sometimes off-kilter and with slow-motion sequences thrown in for good measure. However, despite with obvious attention that has been paid to the film's visual style, Wong's characters are actually well-drawn, real, urban people living in a modern Coca-Cola, McDonalds, Bruce Willis-infused (i.e. highly Americanised) world, dreaming (in some cases) of escaping to California. They are also romantics, obsessives even, as Cop 223's superstition with ex-girlfriend May, extends to purchasing all available tins of pineapple with a sell by date of 1 May, whilst eccentric ('crazy woman') Faye surreptitiously gains access to Cop 663's apartment, rifling through his possessions in order to get closer to the target of her infatuation.
Oddly enough, whilst Wong's film is, gun-toting molls aside, essentially an eccentric tale of romance, it is also a poignant and perceptive take on alienation, loneliness and materialistic obsessions in a modern, urban world. It also has a nicely affecting ending, featuring a case of role reversal as Cop 663 and Faye meet again after a year's gap, all illusions of California well and truly shattered.
on 4 March 2006
Chungking Express is a film about time and coincidence... a continuation of the themes and images developed in the director's first masterpiece, Days Of Being Wild, and a precursor to the ideas and cinematic ideologies that will carry through to his greatest films, In The Mood For Love, and 2046. Unlike those two projects, which seem completely internal in the way in which they blur the emotional points-of-view of their characters - by slipping between the various narrative layers - the basic set-up here is simple... two Hong Kong cops, consumed by melancholic romanticism, wander through a labyrinthine city like Ghosts, haunted by their individual, though ultimately quite similar memories of lost love. Their paths cross on two separate occasions, but never intervene. Instead, the two stories are presented separately, one after the other, with each story presenting various echoes of a theme that ripples throughout.
The style of the film is very much indebted to the style of the French New Wave of the early 1960's, with Wong and cinematographer Christopher Doyle making great use of the available lighting and mobile, handheld cameras, to capture the action in a very fast, very kinetic kind of style. Thus, those only familiar with Wong's more recent films (which benefit from larger budgets and longer periods of production) might be surprised at how ramshackle and idiosyncratic this earlier work is... with Wong pretty much devising the whole film during a break in post-production on his epic historical piece, Ashes of Time, and apparently writing most of the scenes in the afternoons, then hitting the streets to film them that same night. As a result, the film moves at a breakneck pace and never once pauses to analyse it's inaccuracies or indeed, inconsistencies, which, at the end of the day, isn't really a problem... instead, like Godard, it's all part of the film's charm.
The first story of the two is probably the most exciting... tipping it's hat to Godard's À bout de souffle and Cassavetes's Gloria, with it's story of a lovesick cop trying to come to terms with a recent break-up, whilst simultaneously falling in love with a heartless hit-woman. Like most of the film, but more so than the second story, this segment never stops to take a breath, instead, we are continually propelled into the dingy underworld of the Chungking Mansions, with Wong and Doyle's camera (all hand-held intimacy and stroboscopic distortion) bobbing and weaving through crowds of people; snaking it's way around a labyrinth of market places, airport terminals and back street bars; and offering up a never-ending kaleidoscope of colours, speeds, movements, actions, and bursts of garish violence. The story hinges around a chance meeting - the use of the clock is an important visual reference point and the central character's obsession with tinned pineapples with an expiration date of May 1st - though it's easy to miss this within the melange of action, violence, and moody noir.
The second segment still has a fairly fast pace, but seems more relaxed and intimate in comparison to the first, with that great theme of Wong's - unrequited love - being established in the bizarre (though utterly charming) relationship between a recently heart-broken cop and the counter girl and the local Midnight Express take-away. This segment is much more playful than the first, with a nice integration of character, and a lighter tone, which is perhaps why most people consider it the most memorable segment of the two. For me, there are enough similarities and stark coincidences linking the two segments to make them work, with Wong as a director showing us his ability to switch from something as claustrophobic and action-packed as segment one, to the relaxed, charming, almost-comedic tone of the second. There's still the Godardian influence, only here it's more Une Femme Est Une Femme than À bout de souffle, whilst the use of music (trading the cool European synthesisers and multi-cultural mish-mash of sounds, in favour of the bouncing pop of the Mammas and the Pappas and a Cantonese cover of the Cranberries song, Dreams) helps to make the whole thing that little bit more enjoyable.
Overall, Chungking Express is a likable, frantic and somewhat off-the-wall (though I hate to use that expression) combination of noir-references, new-wave romance, and an experiment into the way that cinematic narrative can be developed... all captured with beautiful, stylistic flair by Kar-Wai and Chris Doyle. The performances from the four main leads are all exceptional, with Takeshi Kaneshiro and Tony Leung-Chiu Wai essaying the two love-struck cops, while Cantonese pop-star Faye Wong and the beautiful, bewigged, Brigitte Lin, portray the respective objects of their affections. Like the film it's self, the characters all have a charm and individuality about them, hinting at a deeper character with depth and back-story, even if we don't necessarily get to see the whole picture. Again, this is another trademark of Wong's... as the film really amounts to an accumulation of scenes, characters and moments that can be picked-over by the viewer and discussed until some greater sense of meaning becomes clear.
The ending of the film refuses to pander to the conventions of traditional Hollywood filmmaking and is all the better for it, with Wong instead further illustrating his theme of coincidence and dislocation - with the allusion to California, replayed by a character sitting in a bar called California - really highlighting the central notion of two entities existing at the same time, without any kind of awareness. Certainly, with its brisk-pace, seesawing plot and likable characters, this could be called the most accessible Wong Kar-Wai film - perhaps the best place to start for those new to his work - but of course, beneath all the new-wave references and self-consciously chic scenarios, this is still a pretty deep film about the nature of time, regret, memory, love, loneliness and, of course, the need to belong.
on 18 October 2007
This irresistibly enjoyable and untried Hong-Kong film directed by the ingenious Wong Kar-wai ultimately shows us that idealistic demands can be altered and routines can be broken. Its concern with time is in line with Wong Kar-wai's other films'. Its episodic style and intersecting plotlines are bound by coincidence--the character's chance meetings in the street--and relate in an abstract fashion. Faye, officer 663's love interest after his failed relationship with an air-hostess, ends up being the condensed embodiment of all the other women in the story. She works to mainstream music as the bargirl does, wears sunglasses and puts her hand to her chin like the drug-smuggling, murdering blonde and replaces the flight-attendant in 663's life, becoming one herself. The blonde is the most world-weary character, in contrast to the others' naivety. She becomes officer 223's love interest, after his unsuccessful affair with a girl named May, who we never actually see. The drug-lord and bar owner the blonde was mixed up with before meeting the lonely officer 223 is full of brutal sex appeal, which he trains on his voluptuous girlfriend (the bargirl mentioned earlier). Out of jealousy and anger, the blonde shoots him. Wong Kar-wai seems to be saying that rough sexuality is fruitless and ends in death, whereas a more patient, deep love comes rewarded through things sometimes as simple as 223's epiphany, in which the future seemed full of possibilities thanks to a woman's momentary kindness and the beauty of reminiscence. The film's symbolic obsession with expiry dates is very important in that it demonstrates a fear of change shared mainly by the two principal male characters. Like the popular, low-budget Hong Kong New-Wave cinema out of which it comes, "Chungking Express" is about boys' meeting, losing and getting--or almost--girls. The feeling of dissatisfaction we are left with at the end is a result of Kar-wai's belief in dreams, a primary focus of the film, which we even hear--recurring songs "California Dreaming" and the Canto-pop version of the Cranberries' "Dreams".
"I'll go wherever you want to take me", says 633 at the very end, finally ready to move on thanks to Faye's remodeling of his life, depicted by her secret refurnishing of his apartment. We do not know if this is just another dream, but this poetic ambiguity is more fulfilling than tangible certitude. An exquisite film.
on 11 February 2016
Follows two lovesick Hong Kong police officers as they try to get over their last relationships. You can immediately tell that the visuals are the driving force of the film – the camera movement is light and fluid, framing and camera angles are experimental, the lighting is bright and bold – it ties together to create a very unique look. Unfortunately, no other elements of this movie come close to distracting you from this: the performances are decent but the characters (and their philosophy-lite inner dialogue) feel whimsical and slight; and the plot is inconsequential – relying on artsy / cutesy / quirky moments and fanciful gestures of romance to hold it all together.
The film is split into two stories that have a few similarities (talking to inanimate objects, tinned food, chef salads, Indian people, and varying opinions on tears & water) but would have worked better focusing on the second part. If you think of a big HK movie in the 1990s, this is the complete opposite; so much so that it feels like a rebellious statement – ‘screw what you know about HK directors… I’m making a tedious homage to the French New Wave, suck it up losers!’
At over 100 minutes long it doesn’t half drag, which is a shame because a handful of nice moments and ideas get swallowed up by the dominating pop-video style, excessive runtime, and hammy dialogue – see below for genuine quotes.
Chungking Express appears on list after list of seminal movies, but in reality it’s a barely-worked-on, directionless, and lightly scripted pet project between other movies – and it feels like nothing more than that to me. I’m sure he’s a lovely Won Kar-Guy, but I don’t understand Won Kar-Why the ratings for this are so Won Kar-High!?!? There are better films about Hong Kong and far better films about love: this is a definitive example of style over substance.
on 12 July 2007
Chungking Express is a film that will never bore you, you will enjoy while watching but then are not really sure why you liked it once it's over.
The story focuses on two different cops who have both broken up with their girlfriends and how they move on. The first half of the film is dedicated to one cop and the last half to the other. Unlike other films that have followed this kind of narrative (ie Pulp Fiction, Amores Perros) there is no interlinking between the 2 stories with the exception of some same locations.
The two stories couldn't be more different. The first half is a film noir/ comedy with the jilted cop faling for a blonde wigged drug dealer. The second half of the film reminded me a lot of the film Amelie with Faye Wongs character doing lots of little things for the second cop without him knowing.
The cinematography is stunning (par for the course for a Wong Kar Wai film) and the performances are very very good. Ultimately, both stories leave you with a big smile on your face that should last for hours.
Please give this film a go, whatever the reason, you will enjoy it.
on 29 August 2015
To me this is still best Wong Kar Wai film. And one the earliest. It is the film that made me meet this director. At that time it represented a refreshing and really uncommon way to make films, reminding of french nouvelle vague and music videos, but with a true inspiration where characters are genuine altough bizarre, and the storytelling style just makes us slip into this unusual world and view of life that represents almost a poetic reaction to the oppressive and asfittic city life in big cities like Hong Kong. Here everything is original and new, even the structure, since the film is made of 2 episodes that in a way tell two similar stories but from opposite points of view: male and female. Cinematically challenging and surprising, This film is an unstoppable yet intimate and poetic look at a author, who will soon become one of world renowned masters of cinema
on 14 December 2003
A delicious little film. Two halfs, two romances, three tunes. The film is not necessarily a coherent whole, but works like a book containing two very good short storys. The second is far superior, with California Dreaming and that good song the Cranberries did combining with New Wave like cinematography and a rather beautiful love story. Tony Leung is as superb as ever and is involved with the stunning and vibrant Faye Wang. He is a cop and she is a shop girl, not much tends to happen between them apart from her serving him hot dogs. But the chemistry is brilliantly captured along with the general dreaming of betterment, captured by dreams of escape and the classic California Dreaming. The film will certainly leave you smiling and thinking of the east in a new light.
on 28 December 2015
Said to be Quentin Tarantino's favourite film for many years... A joyful reinvention of the French New Wave, this time with music added. Was intended to be three short stories and shot as an interlude to a movie with which he was having difficulties. He only managed two stories before running out of juice and time.. It's the second story that lights the blue touchpaper. The incomparable genius of Chris Doyle's camerawork and WKW's direction soar above most plodding explorations of love and indeed, most other inventions of recent cinematic storytelling. The best combination since Godard and Coutard? Sublime.
on 19 August 2010
Wong Kar-Wai brings together his usual suspects to create a film about love that rather than allowing the viewer to be a passive observer takes them straight into the minds of the character. He arranges the angles and pace of shots cleverly in sync with the plot's pauses of reverie allowing a voyeuristic sense of watching people who don't know they're being watched.
The film is split in two parts with the small tale of cop223 (Takeshi Kaneshiro), recently broken up and pining for his lost love, finding his path cross with spurned gangstress (Brigitte Lin) whose very disparate lives come together for a night by a shared urge to be with another, to know again that feeling of companionship. The initial scenes act as a prologue highlighting the isolation and loneliness that is innate in human nature regardless of what walk of life they come from. Kaneshiro's decision to date again is like the spark of hope that leads to the more engaging story spread out through the rest of the film.
At a street side deli, first introduced by cop223, cop663 (Tony Leung) comes every night as if to continue the habit of buying his girlfriend breakfast despite the fact that they're no longer together, there he meets waitress Faye (Faye Wong) who dreams of moving to California. Infatuated by cop663 and his depth of pining for the air hostess he loved she takes it upon herself to help him out of his lethargy and build him back to the man he was. Chungking Express has the kookiness of Amelie but a realism with far more resonance creating a romance that's sentimental yet lacking that sweetness that grows tiresome in so many tales of love. What makes Wong Kar-Wai stand out from other directors is his ability to allow each character to grow before your eyes no matter how short their screen time. Tony Leung and Faye Wong have a chemistry that is believable and a delight to watch, one they resumed with equal success in `2046', another of Kar-Wai's delves into the changing faces of love.
on 23 January 2015
This film is great entertainment and not at all predictable. It is also humorous and lovable and whereas I feel it falls short of what most film buff would regard as a great film, it is great nevertheless as how otherwise might you rate a film that entertains you, surprises you, charms you and makes you want to watch it twice, three times and so on. It's pointless attempting to describe the the plot/s. It's a bit silly on occasions but I wouldn't let that hold you back as it achieves this with great enchantment. Okay so it is not Fellini or Antonioni but it will nevertheless entertain the pants off you and as well, there is some quite brilliant camera work. There is some tongue in cheek acting in the same manner as perhaps Pulp Fiction; but as in that film the acting, tongue in cheek as it might be is also quite brilliant within its format. Faye Wong is a charming actress as Tony Leung is a perfect match for her and that's just one of the two stories. Hey, it's not serious stuff. It should make you laugh and maybe shed a tear or two. Personally I believe you should just buy it and watch it and write a review of it from another aspect from what I have. I doubt whether you will be disappointed whatever level you take from it? Unless you like serious Art movies (and then you 'might' like it) or a Hollywood Blockbuster fanatic which gratefully I have a brain and so therefore thankfully Iam not.