I am not a fan of the romance genre because most of them are full of cliches and had nothing new to offer. As I am exploring world cinema, a friend recommended I watch any of Wong Kar-wai’s films before I die. I choose to start with Chungking Express which was written and directed by Wong Kar-wai during his two-month break from editing a film. The movie won the FIPRESCI Prize for Wong Kar-wai and Best Actress for Fate Wong during the 1994 Stockholm International Film Festival. So, what are my thoughts about the movie being not so fond of the romance genre? Read on to find out.
Story, Frames & Score
The film features two stories about two melancholy Hong Kong policemen who fell in love but experienced heartbreak. The first story is about Cop 223 who had not yet moved on after breaking up with May on April Fool’s Day. He eats a can of pineapple every day with an expiration date of May 1 not only because May loves pineapples and his birthday falls on May 1 but he is still hoping that they will get back together before his birthday. One day he gets 0.01 cm close to a mysterious woman on a blonde wig, trench coat, and dark shades. One the night before his birthday, they went together for a chat and drinks and spend the rest of the night in a hotel room where the girl sleeps while he eats and watches old movies one of which is Casablanca. The next morning they separate ways.
The second vignette is the winner. Cop 663 previously living with a flight attendant is having a hard time dealing with a breakup as everything in his apartment reminds him of her. On the fast food he frequents, there works charming Faye who finds interest in him. She noticed how sad Cop 663 is and she is determined to help him move on. She sneaks into his apartment, cleaning and tending it every day as an act of her love to him.
The movie uses straightforward narratives. Both stories have no beginning and ending, it just focuses on the characters living at the moment. The fragmented stories are connected through monologues of the main characters drowning in melancholia. The storytelling is so powerful that it makes the audience engulfs in the desolate world Wong Kai-war creates. With the concept of time, the first story depicts how the feeling of loving and being loved, those moments, and memories transcends time. After watching, you will also wonder, does love have an expiration date too? The second story unfolds love in the concept of space. The importance of human connection is vividly presented by the disintegration of Cop 663 through his enigmatic attachment to objects. The screenplay does not focus on the journey of the two main characters but more on their moods and their vulnerable emotions.
Character & Performances
Cop 223 (He Qiwu) exemplifies a total hopeless romantic. Takeshi Kaneshiro breathes life to Cop 223 effortlessly. Who would not be moved with his expression as he inquires for a message from May on his beeper with his password “I love you for 10,000 years”?
The woman in the blonde wig has her own story to tell. She is racing against the clock because of the nature of her work. Her wearing coat and sunglasses is an indication of the uncertainty of the weather and her life as well. Brigitte Lin with concealed facial expression still able to deliver compelling performance through her strong lean posture and dynamic dialogue delivery.
Faye is a high-spirited woman who loves loud music. She has a big heart that everyone around her glows with her. She is able to change others through her compassion. Faye Wong debuting in this film shows stellar performance in giving life to Faye’s avatar.
Cop 663 (Chui-Wai) indicates that some men hold on to love longer than women do. Tony Leung surrenders fully to his character dynamics and compellingly portrays melancholia, yearning, and fondness.
Music, Frames, & Direction
Wong Kar-wai uses all the elements in developing the story. From the music, colors, location, noise, objects, and visuals they are all form part of the narratives.
The BGM not only perfectly suits the mood and emotions but layers the narratives as well. California Dreamin’ repeatedly played in the movie foreshadows the character arc of Faye. The music is adapted to match the story like Faye Wong’s Cantonese cover of Dreams by Cranberries.
The visual is like contemporary arts filled with vivid colors. The slow-mo through blurry visuals is aesthetically presented like a smeared painting. With the backdrop of the busy and crowded Chungking Mansion, and the smoky and savory atmosphere of Midnight Express, Christopher Doyle brings all the audience right in the middle of Kowloon to experience the gloomy mood of Chungking Express.
Wong Kar-wai is known for his nonlinear narratives so those who are used to conventional stories may find this film illogical. He integrates pop culture into the story through youthful and atmospheric music, and vibrant colored frames. Since this is “on the go” story, wherein he writes the scripts a night or hours before each takes, the atmosphere is fresh and authentic. He showcases the raw emotions of the characters through heartfelt monologues. He deals with the dynamics of human emotions through his subtle screenplay, and exquisite direction to stir the audience’s feelings and emotions and leave a long-lasting impression.
Chungking Express is not a usual story about love and heartaches. It encompasses love, loss, hope, holding on, and letting go. Wong Kar-wai creates a realm of love and longing and confines the audience within for the whole 97 minutes. It is not only a cerebral experience but a beautiful poem of change, love, time, and life. I love you for 10,000 years Wong Kar-wai.
Disclaimer: The above review solely illustrates the views of the writer.