Director: Wong Kar-Wai
Cinematographer: Christopher Doyle
Stars: Takeshi Kaneshiro, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Brigette Lin, Faye Wong
Despite on how much has been written about this movie, the basic plot is pretty simple. It's the story of two cops dealing with love and realtionships in the fast-paced world of Hong Kong. The first part concentrates on Takeshi Kaneshiro as he pines for the girlfriend who dumped him. Every night, he goes through a series of strange rituals hoping to get her back. When they seem to fail, he goes on a series of binges, first eating all the pineapple he can pick up and then heading to a local watering hole where he gets well and truly soused, after which he meets up with a mysterious smuggler played by Brigette Lin (in her last film role and nearly unrecognizable in a blonde wig and big sunglasses). The second story focuses on Tony Leung, who also has gone through a break-up, as he develops a strange relationship with a girl who works at a local cafe (Faye Wong).
At first, I really did not know what to think about this movie. Like most of Wong Kar-Wai's works, it's at times obtuse and almost overly self-indulgent. However, there are so many scenes in Chungking Express which stick in your mind -- almost like fleeting images from a dream -- that by the end of the movie, or especially after repeated viewings, that it tends to grow on you, like the guy at the bar who you think is obnoxious at first but turns out to be a pretty good chap in the end. I will grant that there are some parts of the movie which seem totally silly and absurd. For instance, Faye has a habit of breaking into Tony's apartment and rearranging his furniture -- and Tony never seems to realize this. There are also parts which seem to translate into movie-making mastrubation, such as the seemingly infinite repeating renditions of "California Dreaming." The song is Faye's favorite and it plays almost every time she is onscreen at very high volume. I'm aware of what a musical motif is, but at times the repitition get ridiculous.
But, as I said before, there are a lot of scenes in Chungking Express which hold your attention and make the story more credible as a whole. Perhaps not coincidentally, these scenes are often those which feature the least gimmicks to them, the ones where the actors can simply work. The scenes where Takeshi tries to pick up Brigette by asking her if she likes pineapple in five different languages, Tony berating his dishrag for not having enough absorbency, or especially the small scenes of Tony and Faye meeting up in a local market and awkwardly flirting, are both funny and powerful in a quiet way. It is in these scenes that Chungking Express transcends typical romantic movie territory becuase the characters become something more than cookie-cutter caricatures as present in most other movies of the type. Even though their actions seem "unreal/unbelivable" (in terms of the romantic movie canon) at first, the more we learn and see about them, the more you feel connected to them -- and more importantly, the more you care about where the movie will lead to.
If you've read some of my reviews here, you can probably guess that I'm normally not a big fan of either romantic or "art-house" movies. But I feel that Chungking Express is so well-done that it warrants a viewing from anyone who considers themselves a serious movie fan. If you want to expand your Hong Kong movie horizons to something other than cops and robbers or kung fu, this is an excellent place to start.
A couple of notes about the movie:
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