Chungking Express (1994)

Wong’s influential international breakthrough is fascinating, but it is not always well-paced.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review #323

Dir. Wong Kar Wai
1994 | Hong Kong | Drama/Romance | 102 mins | 1.66:1 | Cantonese & various other languages
PG13 (passed clean) for some violence, sexuality and drug content

Cast: Brigitte Lin, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Tony Leung, Faye Wong 
Plot: In Hong Kong, two lovelorn officers find themselves attracted to very different women: Cop 223 has broken up with his girlfriend of five years and is now drawn to a mysterious woman with a blonde wig. When Cop 663’s Ex drops his keys off at a local cafe, a new girl at the lunch counter rivets him
Awards: Nom. for Golden Leopard (Locarno); Won 1 Golden Horse – Best Leading Actor; Nom. for 7 Golden Horses – Best Picture, Best Director, Best Leading Actress, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Art Direction, Best Original Score

Source: Block 2 Distribution

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: DVD
First Published: 28 Aug 2008
Spoilers: No

This was the film that launched the international career of Wong Kar Wai.  The Hong Kong film auteur is not only one of the most original filmmakers to emerge in the 1990s, but also one of the top directors from the East, standing tall amongst fellow established filmmakers such as Zhang Yimou and Hou Hsiao-Hsien. 

Chungking Express is in many ways a sumptuous treat for the senses.  The splashes of neon-like colours used, the fluidity of the camerawork, the crisp editing, and an energetic soundtrack all add up, eventually leading to what is now known as the ‘Wong Kar Wai style’. 

The story in Chungking Express is deceptively simple.  Two love-struck cops find it tough to come into terms with a lonely life without their girlfriends who have left them.  

Set in a bustling, cross-cultural arena that is Hong Kong, Wong splits the narrative into two separate parts with a food-and-beverage stall as the only link. 

While I was watching the film, I observed a gradual drop in its pacing.  Chungking Express began with a bang with impressive sequences after one another.

“Actually, really knowing someone doesn’t mean anything. People change. A person may like pineapple today and something else tomorrow.”

One notable example was when Brigitte Lin’s character was running away from several assailants, weaving through dimly-lit corridors and underpasses, and eventually into a crowded, departing train. 

Most of the frames in this sequence employ the step-printing effect, creating splashes of vague dream-like images that are hallmarks of the director’s artistry.  

Its second story, however, lacks the spark and thrill of the first although it features popular singer Faye Wong dancing to the tune of ‘California Dreaming’, which is at times annoyingly overplayed in the film. 

A huge number of fans and critics have named Chungking Express as Wong’s most remarkable achievement.  It is not difficult to see why.  

But as much as I would like to love this film, Chungking Express just did not appeal to me as much as, say, Days of Being Wild (1990) or In the Mood for Love (2000).  Perhaps a third viewing might change my views.

Grade: B+




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