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Chungking Express (1994)

May 5, 2010

7/10 Unlikely Rebounds

One incredibly unique character study, even if it only applies to two thirds of the movie itself.

The thing is, Chungking Express is actually two movies in one. The first half-hour is about a love-sick cop whose girlfriend of five years breaks up with him out of the blue, so he goes to a bar and decides to fall in love with the first woman that walks in the door…who just happens to be a cocaine smuggler. The second part of the movie is about another love-sick, though less pathetic, cop – whose girlfriend also breaks up with him out of the blue – and the quirky gal who takes it upon herself to change his life for the better without him even knowing it.

With the exception of the setting, the broken hearts and the whole cop connection, these really are two entirely separate stories that for all intents and purposes have nothing to do with one another. Can’t say I’ve ever seen a movie like this that creates two different plot lines and doesn’t have them come together at the eleventh hour a la Crash or something, but creating movies that I can’t say I’ve ever seen before seems to be a running theme with Wong Kar-Wai’s movies, and I like that.

The strange thing is that, compared to In the Mood for Love – the only other Kar-Wai movie I’ve seen – even though this feels like a Kar-Wai effort, it looks nothing like a Kar-Wai effort. See, In the Mood for Love is one meticulous, finely crafted movie that looks as sleek and subtle as its script reads, but Chungking Express is something else entirely, not that that’s a bad thing. Granted, there’s a six year gap between when the movies were made, but Kar-Wai is all about the shaky cams and staggered frame rate here and it creates this feeling like you’re being dropped right into the lives of his characters instead of like someone walking through an art gallery.

I guess the reason I’m bringing this up in the first place is that, just like so many other elements of this movie, it’s unexpected and it’s different but it feels very right. I don’t know if this movie would have had the same effect on me if it had been filmed like In the Mood for Love, and maybe I just need to see more of the guy’s movies, but I tip my hat to Kar-Wai all the same for being able to switch up his style like this and managing to make it work so well. Apparently the dude’s no joke.

But the things that really drive this movie aren’t so much the visuals and the camerawork, but rather the characters and their stories.

The first story about the cop who falls for the coke lord is interesting enough, but it unfortunately ends up being pretty forgettable in comparison to the second story where the real heart of the movie kicks in. So maybe the characters and story don’t really drive that first part, but they definitely do in the second.

The stars of this story are Tony Leung – apparently a Kar-Wai regular – as lonely cop 663 who’s crying on the inside back at home but plays it cool while walking the beat around the streets Hong Kong, and Faye Wong as Faye, the odd girl who can see right through him and works at the deli 663 eats at each day. 663’s persona is the more straightforward of the two in that he’s the guy with the love pangs and the only thing going on with him is that he’s trying to nurse some emotional wounds and doing his, and that’s what makes Faye stand out.

Faye steals the show because she’s the dreamer of the movie, the one whose motives are genuine even though they’re not exactly crystal and it’s hard not to see her appeal in a city filled with folks who are too hung up on some old flame to take hold of the life in front of them. She’s funky, she’s quirky and she’s never upfront about anything, but that’s why she’s great and the huge amount of soul she adds to picture is just what this movie needed. But Tony Leung’s still damn good, he’s just a cool mother effer.

My gut instinct with Chungking Express was to give it a 7 because it didn’t really grab me until the second story booted up, and even then it took a bit to get going, but it’s also one of those movies that I just can’t stop thinking about and I’m not really sure why. A lot of it I think goes back to Faye, whether it’s Faye cleaning 663’s apartment to the tune of Faye Wong covering “Dreams” by The Cranberries, Faye making sandwiches while blaring “California Dreamin'” by The Mamas and the Papas, or Faye just being Faye, but it’s a movie I really want to see a second time because it left me with a lot to think about, stuff that didn’t really hit me until later on and that doesn’t happen all too often.

Still not sure why that first story’s in there, but it’s nevertheless a really interesting and subtle movie about getting over it, moving on and appreciating all the people and things that are staring you square in the face.

Well done, Wong. I need to see more of your stuff.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. May 5, 2010 1:03 am

    Nice write-up man. I haven’t seen this in years but reading your review has made me want to watch it again. It’s interesting to hear your thoughts based on seeing “In the Mood for Love” first. I saw “Chungking Express” first, then all the other early ones and then “In the Mood for Love” came out a couple years later, so I had sort of an opposite feeling where the stylistic change of “In the Mood for Love” was surprising to me, as I was accustomed to his previous work. Having said that, I think the style change is a big reason why he seemed to get more international acclaim after that movie.

    Also, “Days of Being Wild” is really good too.

    • May 5, 2010 8:42 am

      Never heard of it but I’ll definitely check it out. I’m digging this guy big time right now.

  2. May 5, 2010 1:30 am

    Legit write up.

    Also somewhat recently saw this movie / started getting into Won Kar Wai’s stuff. He’s the man. A few of his old ones are available via netflix watch instantly; might wanna hit that up.

    California Dreamin was stuck in my head for a week after I saw this one.

    • May 5, 2010 8:43 am

      Hahaha, same here, same thing with “Dreams”. That girl was a one-trick pony when it came to music.

  3. May 5, 2010 11:27 am

    I’m pretty sure this film is just two hours of “California Dreamin'” with “The Dreamer” thrown in for good measure.

    That being said I do like it and, like you, I didn’t find it that gripping until the second half.

    • May 5, 2010 5:37 pm

      Yeah, Kar-Wai totally overplayed that one. Might be a while ’til I enjoy listening to that again.

  4. May 5, 2010 5:49 pm

    Good stuff my man, and while I immediately fell in love with Chungking, first story included, your reaction is the most common one I have seen with the film. It seems to be the trend with Chungking, and other WKW works, that the initial gut reaction is, “It was good, yeah good” but his films stay with you and the more you think about it the more you start to love the film. It seems that is what is happening with you, and if all goes according to plan soon you will be with me in the land of the loving. : )

    • May 5, 2010 6:28 pm

      Haha, I’m already there, man. Hal at Forget the Popcorn tipped me off that a lot of his stuff is streaming through Netflix. Gotta check that stuff out.

      • May 5, 2010 8:48 pm

        Be prepared to fall in love with Tony Leung as well, not only is the guy sex on a stick, but he’s an amazing actor who has been overlooked by a great majority of film buffs, at least I think he has.

      • May 5, 2010 8:49 pm

        Hahaha, that’s definitely the vibe I’m getting from him. And I agree, I feel like he’d have more mainstream appeal. Strange.

  5. May 19, 2010 5:49 pm

    You know WKW choreographed the Olympics opening ce4remonies. That’s why there’s a like 4 year gap in his resume

    • May 20, 2010 8:41 am

      Yeah, I did know that, and that was an unreal ceremony. Made Canada look like chumps this past year.

  6. June 17, 2010 2:51 pm

    interesting review for Chungking Express, especially since you mention that both stories play like two movies, and that it didn’t come together like in Crash. It does, however… kind of anyway. When Takeshi Kaneshiro’s lovesick cop is in the cafe (?), the owner tells him he should go after Faye, and he said he’s not interested. Then by the time the other story is about to start, Faye bumps into him, while she’s doing her chores.

    I’m not exactly sure, I haven’t seen it in a while. It’s not a “meaningful” story connection, but it’s a casual encounter that pieces the film together.

    • June 17, 2010 5:37 pm

      Yeah, there is that one bridge, but for the most part they seemed completely unrelated, and I kinda dug that, mostly because the second story is so memorable. Thanks for the comment and thanks for visiting!

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