Friday, 25 May 2007
Chungking Express (1994) dir-Wong Kar-Wai
Starring: Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Brigitte Lin and Takeshi Kaneshiro
Guest review by Blair Stewart
Do you ever smell a scent and suddenly find yourself ten years younger and in love?Hear a snippet of a song that takes you back to a forgotten memory, forgotten mood, and damned if it doesn’t just breaks you? From the first bars of its amazing synthesizer score, Wong Kar-Wai’s “Chungking Express” understands that sensation.
This was the first film I’d seen of WKW’s work and of Hong Kong cinema and still it remains my favorite. It is a dizzying pastiche of frantic camera speeds, big city noise and oddball characters falling in and out of love. The story is of two beat cops in the roughneck part of Kowloon in the 90’s, both mini movies of themselves that momentarily intersect, where one will always play the fool and one just might get the girl. Cop #223 (Takeshi Kaneshiro) is drowning his blues in nearly expired cans of pineapple (canned foods is a perverse WKW fetish.) and after a brief encounter develops a crush on a ruthless drug trafficker in a Rita Hayworth wig (Brigitte Lin). Cop #633 (the mighty Tony Leung Chiu Wai) has just found out that his ‘girlfriend is a highway and she went by pretty quick*. But unbeknownst to him his local cafe server (Faye Wong) has fallen hard for him. So hard, in fact, she’s taken to breaking into his apartment and cleaning it while listening to earsplitting renditions of the Mama’s and the Papa’s “California Dreaming”. Meanwhile, all around them, one of the world’s great cities whoops and blusters as only a great city can.
A breakthrough internationally for Wong Kar-Wai after Quentin Tarantino started singing his praises upon its festival release, it would lead to his other triumphs “Happy Together” and “In the Mood for Love”. “Chungking Express” was also a triumphant introduction to the idiosyncratic work of cinematographer Christopher Doyle, who not only had a tremendous flexibility in style and color has also lead a mysterious life worthy of J.D. Salinger’s next novel. Their collaboration is one of the great duos in cinema, two artists improvising on-the-fly and challenging each other with their craft.
If you are lovesick and seek a voice that speaks your language, you might find it here. If you have a good reason to celebrate and want background noise to your happiness, you will find it here. Enjoy.
*Thanks to Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers “Roadrunner” for that great line.
Buy it here: Chungking Express