3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Innovative, Vibrant, Funny, Moving,
This review is from: Chungking Express  [DVD] (DVD)
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.