Chungking Express | Varied Celluloid

Chungking Express

Posted by Josh Samford On July - 17 - 2008
Plot Outline: Chungking Express is the tale of two intersecting stories of love, life and loneliness in the big city. The first story is of He Zhiwu (Takeshi Kaneshiro), a Hong Kong police officer who’s girlfriend has just left him. Zhiwu is desperately lonely, and still hung up on his girlfriend, while on the other side of Hong Kong a mysterious female in a blonde wig is having trouble with some Indian foreigners who she is using to smuggle drugs. After her job is botched, she sets out to make things right, but before she can fully do her job, she and He Zhiwu will eventually meet. The second story focuses on The Midnight Express, a small fast food style resteraunt where Faye (Faye Wong) has just started work. While on the job she runs into the second police officer of the story, Cop 663 (Tony Leung). She dreams of some day making a trip to California, but for the moment, her fascination is focused solely on this lonely police officer. Cop 663’s flight attendant girlfriend has just left him, and his depression is palpable. After the flight attendant delivers a letter to The Midnight Express, where Leung eats every day, he can’t bring himself to actually accept and read the letter. Faye eventually, after making friends with 663, asks for his address and promises to post the letter to him, but she is soon enraptured by the man and spends her days waiting around his apartment without his knowledge. All stories have conclusions, and you’ll have to just sit and watch the film to find them.

  

The Review
This is my second review I’ve done for a film that was already featured here, but written by another author. This time, the same as last, I’m giving my take on a film already reviewed by Sebastian Hasellbeck. It’s not that Sebastian’s review didn’t explain a lot of the highly positive things about the film, but for me, Chungking Express is one of those movies that I just love to sit down and watch. Getting to experience it once more for a review didn’t seem like such a bad idea today. At my heart, although I would like to think that my exterior doesn’t show it, I consider myself a hopeless romantic. I don’t care for these so-called romantic comedies that populate the multiplexes these days, and you can bet I don’t read romance novels. I prefer to watch a love story where the characters are realistic, have flaws and don’t drown themselves in sentimentality. I’m not some kind of pretentious sob who only demands remarkable depth in a film dealing with love, but I find it so much more relatable when the characters are so screwed up that they’re as lead along by the story as much as the audience. That is exactly the type of film Chungking Express is, it doesn’t pray on simple emotional connections between characters or try to make things simplistic, and although it’s certainly a bit of a jump, the way Wong Kar-Wai handles the topic reminds me of some older Hollywood films. Trust me, I realize how drastically different the styles of Wai and Billy Wilder are, but it has that same attitude in it that we don’t actually know if the guy will get the girl. We don’t know if everything is going to be happily ever after. Some of those older films I talk about definitely had their fair share of sentimentality and oversimplification, but they felt much more ambiguous and heartfelt than a lot of films today. I’m particularly thinking of films like The Apartment, The Philadelphia Story or even Casablanca. Even if there was never any intention of making a film like that, for me, that’s what I get out of it. It doesn’t hurt the fact that the film is almost perfect in every other possible way either. It’s not so much a film about messed up relationships, as it is a look at the love life of several quirky and even introverted people. The only word to accurately describe the film would be gorgeous, and that’s certainly not a word you’ll commonly think of when describing a movie. It’s an incredibly touching film that isn’t shy about the fact that the people within are all human and are certainly prone to mistakes and things never reach the point where they are just ‘too’ sweet. It’s honestly almost a magical experience watching the film, if you sit through the film and it does nothing for you, I really wouldn’t know how to react to that.

No film is perfect, obviously. Chungking Express no doubt has it’s bumps along the way and I won’t try to pretend they aren’t there, but as a complete film, it’s an amazing experience. Taken in parts though, I definitely have a more favorite section of the film, as I’m sure many do. The first segment with Takeshi Kaneshiro is certainly not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but I can’t help but feel the urge to want to skip past it when I sit through it, even though without the first segment the second wouldn’t have half the impact for me. I don’t know exactly what it is about that first thirty minutes or so. It feels as if the film is just getting it’s feet in position before the big race towards the finish line. The pacing is deliberately slow, but I don’t consider a minute of it to be boring. I think it’s more about how disconnected the film feels, by way of the characters. Takeshi’s character is almost an isolationist since his girlfriend broke up with him, and perhaps his sorrow sinks through the film. The scene with him trying to find a date by telephone is equally humorous and somewhat tragic because of how lonely he seems. By the end of his sequence though, you can’t help but feel an immense amount of closure on the story, even if the future is left a little uncertain. The conclusion of the first half of the film also delivers one amazing transition from one character to another through the use of voiceover. It’s an incredibly easy way to do things, but also immensely successful. While on the subject, the voiceover in the film is a double edged sword really. Sometimes it works and is a very witty way of including the audience in on everything, but sometimes it just seems like overkill when characters explain what they are going to do before they actually do it. Still, sometimes when you think the VO is telling you one thing, it zigs when you expect it to zag, so I find it hard to complain all too heartily. After the second half of the film picks up, personally I find that’s when the pure imagination and vulnerability of the film takes shape. A story of obsession only on the surface, the plot delves into so much it’s almost hard to compute. It’s like visual poetry, and the film gets the audience into a sincere emotional attachment with the characters. The emotions within the film are universal, and genuine. It’s so amazingly relatable in all manners that the audience can’t help but invest their interest and hopes along the way. There’s some comedy here, melancholy sadness there and such a magnificent story pattern that by the end of the film it just blows me away every time. It’s so nonchalant in delivery that the moment almost feels like it could pass at any second, but I know I’m not the only one to be mesmerized by the film.

I’m certainly no expert on the films of Wong Kar-Wai, I’ve seen this and one other film thus far, so my judgment on the director so far doesn’t seem all that worthy, but I will say that this is the film that draws my attention to him. As Tears Go Bye wasn’t exactly a classic by my standards, but I will say that it was original. Chungking Express though is leaps and bounds ahead of that film, and nearly every other film out there trying to tackle similar themes. Wong Kar-Wai is the brains behind it all, and that’s what gives me the perseverance to delve into his films farther. His writing is simply spectacular, the characters are all multi-layered and their stories concise and complete. The dialogue is of course hard to judge because of the language barrier, but you can tell even through subtitles how witty the spoken words are. The way in which he tells the story, not just in writing but in visual, is also breathtaking. Cinematographer Christopher Doyle (imdb.com also credits Wai Keung Lau) has made a name for himself simply from working with the man, and never have I seen so much handheld camerawork look so fantastic. The film doesn’t have a glossed up look, but it’s not gritty even though it is urban. The colors in the film are so varied and even clashing that the film takes on a weird mismatched look to it, but all ties together extremely well. The handheld work in the film, as I said, is just fantastic. It fits in well with the urban isolation theme in the film, and the bustling of people all around. It’s hard for me to recall a film that it looks remotely similar to, and that’s about as great a compliment a film can get these days I think. The acting by all involved is top notch, although once again I’ll have to pick favorites. Takeshi Kinshiro is a great actor I find, and I did love his character in the film, but there were just moments where I felt like he took things perhaps a bit overboard. Like when he explains to a cashiere at a convenience store about how tin can’s have feelings too and should be kept in circulation until their expiration date is complete. He didn’t do anything particularly over-excagerated in the scene, but he felt more like he was reaching for laughs too often in the film. Something I really didn’t feel neccesary, but other than that he did as well a job as could be done. Bridgette Lin, playing opposite Takeshi, was great in her femme fatale role but not given half as much room to mess around. Still, for what it’s worth, she looked great in her blonde wig! The real meat and potatoes of the performances for me were definitely split between Tony Leung and Faye Wong. Tony, who has proven countless times that he is an amazing talent, did so once more and really knocked my hat off. His character is laconic half the time, but through the little things he is able to say so much while doing so little. He’s always vulnerable but puts up a tough vinnear. The scenes where he flirts with Faye Wong are incredible because you can just see his humor from the situation sinking through character. He really is that good. Faye Wong, who seems to be known far more for her singing career than acting, puts in such a great performance that it’s a shame she doesn’t step on to more film sets. Her character is cute, sweet, naive, experienced and almost as perplexed at her actions as we the audience are. She brings so many dimenzions to the part that I just wouldn’t have thought were there. She’s also incredibly attractive, but that’s the shallow pantsman talking.


The Conclusion
I guess it depends on what kind of person you are from a cinematic standpoint to gauge whether you’ll like the film or not, but for me, not only is it touching emotionally, but it’s a fun ride from an entertainment standpoint. It’s an all around fun film to watch. There are still some people who walk away with hatred for it, although I don’t get that, but what can I say, you’re either up for this sort of stuff or you aren’t. If you’re a softie at heart like me though, just watch this film and see if it doesn’t make you melt.



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Varied Celluloid is a film website intent on delivering views on movies from all genres. Started in 2003, the website has been steadfast in its goal and features a database of over 500 lengthy reviews. If you would like to contact us about writing for the website or sending screeners, please visit the about page located here.

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