32 Chungking Express

Chungking Express” is the second film on the list by Wong Kar-wai.Chungking_Express   It garnered some international attention as an Asian “Pulp Fiction” (although has no thematic or story similarities other than the multiple stories approach), somewhat exacerbated by its similar release date and the fact Quentin Tarantino has been both a very vocal admirer of the movie and that his distribution company enabled the film to get a North American release.

Remarkably, it was written and filmed in a mere two months (there was originally going to be a third storyline, which eventually became “Fallen Angels”).  However, it certainly does not feel rushed.

The story?  Part one deals with He Zhiwu (a.k.a. Cop 223, Takeshi Kaneshiro) who is struggling to deal with his breakup with his girlfriend.  Brigette Lin is on the other side of the law, attempting to tidy up a drugs smuggling operation gone wrong.  Their lives interconnect just briefly, just for one night.  Part two deals with Tony Leung’s Cop 633 who struggles to deal with the breakup with his Air Hostess Girlfriends.  Faye (Faye Wong) works at a food stall that he frequents.  She falls for him, but ends up only expressing this by secretly stealing his key, and looking after his apartment whilst he is at work.

The stories are vaguely interconnected – there are brief appearances of characters from second part in the first, and the stories do bump into each other, although only to pass the baton.  The foodstall “Midnight Express” acts as a common location for three of the characters.

Faye Wong is an oriental music superstar.  In this movie she is absolutely fantastic, even when the film is populated by some absolute giants of Hong Kong and Japanese cinema.  Yet she is the endearing image of the movie.  I challenge you not to fall in love with her character.  Even more surprising is how few film appearances she made after this.

The soundtrack is also something special.  A mix of original compositions, American classics, and Faye Wong’s own canto-pop, it really underpins the cosmopolitan nature of Hong Kong..

At its best, the film is almost documentary in style – you feel you are there with the characters, observing them in their lives.  You see how they interact with the rest of the world, you see them at their most private.  camerawork intimate, but never seems intrusive.

It is a sad movie.  Cop 223 and 633 are both dealing with the ends of their relationships.  223 does this by setting deadline for his ex-girlfriend to come back, marking it by obsessive behaviour.  633 does this by withdrawing, ignoring what is in front of his face.  Faye falls for 633, but struggles to show her feelings, eventually running away.  Brigette Lin’s character is merely trying to survive in the underworld, but appreciates a small moment of kindness.

This is a comedic movie.  Watch Tony Leung’s conversations with the household objects.  Watch 223 eat 30 cans of pineapple.  Watch Faye invade 633’s life.  Watch 223 and 633 compete for the title of Hong Kong’s worst policemen.

This is a movie about Hong Kong.  Watch how the traditional collides with the modern. Smell the markets.  Hear the closeness of the International Airport

Both stories end with a small ray of hope.  You don’t know quite what is going to happen, but you know that all the characters have a chance in their lives – whether with each other or not.

I had wanted to see this film for a very long time, and was lucky enough to watch it a few weeks ago with my Best Friend.  Then I watched it again before writing this.  And I found more and more to love.  And I know I have to watch it again and again…


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