Chungking Express (1994)

 Chunky yet delicious

Genre: Drama Comedy (Hong Kong)

Starring: Brigitte Lin (Police Story Ashes of Time), Tony Leung Chiu Wai (Lust, CautionHero)

Directed By: Kar Wai Wong (Happy Together2046)

Overview: Telling two tales of lovelorn cops in Hong Kong’s Chungking Mansions.

Kar Wai Wong's third feature is set in Hong Kong's Chungking Mansions business/apartment complex, telling two distinct tales with a common theme of heartbroken cops and the Midnight Express hole-in-the-wall food counter. The first story involves a woman in a blonde wig (Brigitte Lin) who smuggles drugs by turning Indians into mules, tailoring them new clothes and filling their heels and shoulder pads with drugs. Eventually she meets cop 223 (Takeshi Kaneshiro). “We split up on April Fool's Day. So I decided to let the joke run for a month. Every day I buy a can of pineapple with a sell-by date of May 1. May loves pineapple, and May 1 is my birthday. If May hasn't changed her mind by the time I've bought thirty cans, then our love will also expire.” He patiently waits for his ex-girlfriend to come back to him, he patiently buys a can of pineapples every day. This tale takes some time to explore the lives of our two characters, it draws one in slowly to the woman in the blonde wig and what she’s up to. It’s wonderful, but unfortunately this story ends abruptly, making room for the second story, which takes the lion’s share of Chungking Express.

Let's be clear: Guns are hot
Let's be clear: Guns are hot

The next story, about cop 663’s (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) whirlwind affair with a flight attendant (Valerie Chow) is quite amusing. When she leaves cop 663 a note explaining that she’s dumping him and returning his key, Faye, the pixie-haired counter girl (Faye Wong), quickly picks up the key and visits his home while he’s away. Very reminiscent of 3-Iron, this shy, coy girl goes to 663’s apartment and does little things, visiting whenever she can - cleaning up, putting up little photos on his mirror, changing his brand of sardines but leaving the old labels on the cans. This story is fun and whimsical and only had one problem: although relevant to the plot, the use of The Mamas and the PapasCalifornia Dreamin’ hammered into my ear to the point of annoyance was overdone – I’m talking the same 30 second played nearly a dozen times.

Less about love and more about the lovelorn, Chungking Express is romantic and funny, yet rooted in dramatic reality, not in false romantic pretences and fluffy bow-tied endings, which is why it’s not billed a Romance. Though the thin plot is more focused on the slice-of-life side of storytelling, it’s beautiful to watch. Being low budget, Chungking Express makes tremendous use of tinkering with exposure and shutter speeds to simulate almost impressionistic speed-blur motion effects throughout the film, this being one of the main reasons it’s listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die. Add that it’s an interesting injection of a diverse side of Hong Kong culture and part of the Criterion collection family and you shouldn’t have a problem convincing your friends to give this one a try.

 

There that Impressionistic bit I was talkin about.
There that Impressionistic bit I was talkin about.

 

Performance: 7 Cinematography: 8 Script: 7 Plot: 8 Mood: 8

Overall Rating: 76% (Cheap But Tasty)
Aftertaste:

My favourite scenes were those where 663 would speak to his objects. Picking up a thin bar of soap, he says, “You've lost a lot of weight, you know. You used to be so chubby. Have more confidence in yourself.” To a wet dripping cleaning rag, “You have to stop crying, you know. Where's your strength and absorbency? You're so shabby these days.”  When he gets a new bar of soap, “You mustn't let yourself go. You've gained weight so fast. She may have gone but life goes on. You must stop indulging yourself.” To the new towel, “It was such a relief when I saw it crying. It may look different, but it's still true to itself. It's still an emotionally charged towel.”

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