DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: Chungking Express

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Chungking Express

The opening credit in this film belongs to Quentin Tarantino's distribution arm Rolling Thunder Pictures, in his usual font, Though it's thematically and aesthetically different than QT'swork, it's easy to see why this piqued Tarantino's interest. Both females leads are elusive hip chicks, not unlike Uma Thurman in both Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill, Pam Grier and Melanie Laurent and others. Ultimately we could derive this type of character from Jean-Luc Godard in Vivre Sa Vie, Anna Karina, the waify bohemian prostitute who was so darn sexy in that demure sweater.

Chungking Express (1994) dir, Wong Kar Wai
Starring: Brigitte Lin, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Faye Wong, Tony Leung Chiu Wai

By Alan Bacchus

In Chungking Express Brigitte Lin and Faye Wong exhibit the same desirable qualities as Anna Karina and those Tarantino characters. They are so elusive Kar-Wai doesn't even give them names. Lin is unidentified but unmistakeable as the mysterious woman with the blonde wig who always wears sunglasses even at night. Faye Wong plays the niece of a convenience store clerk with a 'je ne sais quoi' carefree flightiness. Both gals have enough  spunk to attract the attentions of two lonely heartbroken cops.

But this is a Wong Kar-Wai film which means lovers getting together is not so easy. Like many of his works, in particular In the Mood For Love, Wai tells a story of the barriers to love, instead of the emotional bond which should bring them together,

It's mid-90's Hong Kong, a rain-drenched city bristling with colourful neon, inhabited by night owls, an amalgam of cultures, Chinese, British, American, South Asian. Think Blade Runner in the present. Wai divides his 90mins into two distinct narratives set around the aforementioned convenience store deep in the heart of this electric city.

Takeshi Kaneshiro plays cop 223, whose just broke up with his girlfriend and finds himself ogling a mysterious, cloaked, wigged and sunglasses wearing drug dealer (Brigitte Lin). In the second half of the picture we see Tony Leung as cop 663 who has also broken up with his GF but drawn to Faye Wong's sprite and young convenience store clerk.

Leung's staid expressions fit his formal police attire. For Takeshi K he’s more outwardly love sick and thus wears his heart on his sleeve. He’s more susceptible to getting drunk and confessing his inner torment. The two contrasting personalities, both with the same conflicts and goals, work like a classic ying and yang.We never see these stories intertwined, yet we feel as they are both happening simultaneous or in some kind of Inception-like dreamworld.

Chungking has an honest and rare cinematic purity to it. It's wholly stylish, but not in an obtrusive way. The streetwise motion and colours organically weaves itself into the dreamlike narrative. A scattershot story really barely held together by plotting. Instead Wai tells a dual story which works better as one.

The universal love story and mix of cultures infused with the pitch perfect mix use Western pop songs, ‘What a Difference a Day Makes”, “California Dreaming”, also the Cranberries' 'Dreams' in Chinese, adds to the accessibility of this story.

Much has been written about Wai's impressionistic style. Indeed it's a visual and aural masterpiece. Not a set piece driven film, but a mix of elegance and edgy art house sensabilities. It’s both formal and controlled and wild and meandering. Watch the dialogue scenes often filmed with long lenses with the camera locked down, throwing the background out of focus and beautifying the subjects. The rest of the camera is constantly in motion, whipping, panning and moving about, not haphazardly always following the subject either the physical motion or the emotional state of the characters. Slo-motion, reflective surfaces all add to his hip-romantic aesthetic.


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