Chunking Express

by Wong Kar-Wai

A Dazzling Experience of Heartbreak and Romance


Many times, groundbreaking concepts come out of singular movies, and Asian cinema has been remarkable in that regard. You may know some of the most notorious examples, like Akira and Seven Samurai. But there's also this hidden pearl of the director that reinvented a genre and gave new life to the Hong Kong wave. Dutch angles, time-lapses, color-saturated compositions, and turbulent sequence shots are all in the menu of this master class of award-winning Wong Kar-Wai, care to find out?

In the year 1994, the Hong Kongese raised director was in the process of editing Ashes of Time, an ambitious martial arts action flick that failed to live up to the genre expectations and to translate its visual concept to the new technologies. During the time he was working on it, he decided to do a smaller, personal project to rest of some of the stress the other project represented. He would film it with most of the crew from Ashes and a modest budget in the streets of Hong Kong. Unexpectedly, that movie would become his first hit at international recognition and the start of his fame as a director.

Somehow everything comes with an expiry date.

Chungking Express, like most of the work from Wong, it's a film about romance or the borders of unrequited love. Two stories connected only by the enormous residential building Chungking Mansions and a small establishment, the Midnight Express.

The first is the story of the young cop He Zhiwu (played by Takeshi Kaneshiro) and a mysterious femme fatale (played by Brigitte Lin). Both troubled by treason and bound by a prophetic date, would meet in atypical circumstances at a bar and finally be able to find trust and rest. Never learning who they are or how different things could've been for them.

I can tell you’re lonely Really?

The second story goes between Faye Wong, a waitress at a small food establishment where cop 663 (Tony Leung) would habitually buy dinner for his girlfriend. But when his girlfriend dumps him, leaving him only a letter and a key that Faye will choose to keep from him, as they start to play a game of Hide and Seek where she would get into his life without him ever knowing.

Where do you want to go? Wherever you want to take me.

Now, there's a lot to point out in this film, so I would like to talk about a very noticeable thing and a more subtle one:

First, let's mention the very notorious photography, as the movie looks like made by Godard. And that wouldn't be that far off. Wong's work with his trusted DP Christopher Doyle makes eulogy to French New Wave's experimental spirit while adding their own Hong Kong twist. The camera dizzying hand-held movements and the inventive use of low frame rates leave the characters moving through seas of neon lights. Meeting us in beautiful still shots and some Dutch angles that keep you on your toes while you catch up to it.

A smart solution as the lower cost hand-held camera allowed smoother movement through the narrow hallways of Hong Kong.

Every day we brush past so many people. People we may never meet... or people who may become close friends.

Second, I would like to point out the movie's use of music on its tense moments as much as in its more cheerful and charismatic ones. As we mentioned, the film has a turbulent pace, reaching high-speed chases and slow time-lapsed takes. But are excellently complemented by the dramatic chords and memorable songs that make it that more expressive and memorable. I now can't hear California Dreaming without seeing Faye dancing through the kitchen.

Can I go now? Stay a bit longer. I’ll put some music.

If you are a fan of Wong's work or have never heard of him, this is a great movie to watch as it's one of the purest representations of his style and creativity as a director that changed the whole panorama of eastern cinema, and I highly recommend it.



Written by Juan Pablo Ortiz from logueinn