Film Review Chungking Express
Director: Wong Kar-wai (1994)
This is a Wong Kar-wai film. If you’re not familiar with what a Wong Kar-wai film is, you probably should be before you even attempt this one, if you are, you’ll probably understand why I say it’s really hard to know where to begin with this review, so for no reason, here’s some fake terminology:
Chungking is actually Chinese mandarin for: ‘ short film about a woman in rain coat and sunglasses pursued by tinned pineapple obsessed young police officer’s tale and is actually a faithful retelling of the least known of Monet’s Canterbury Tales
Express is Chinese Cantonese for: ‘ second short film about another police officer dealing with break-up who gets a guardian angel from the local takeaway that falls in love with him and re-decorates his flat’ and is based on the opera by Wagner
Combine the two and voila, a Wong Kar-wai film! [Pretentious joke bullshit like that should give a good indication of just how hard I found it trying to begin this review!]
I’ll start properly then with Wong Kar-wai himself, he’s very very very likely a genius, appears to be a very very very nice man in interviews, and is clearly a film enthusiast. He has an incredibly independent ‘I do what I want’ style and all his films appear to have moments he wants you to enjoy, and moments accompanied with giant middle fingers to the audience just because, he ‘s Wong Kar-wai. Chungking Express is heavy on the enjoyment with a few middle fingers thrown in. Basically Wong Kar-wai films are a story within a story, first there’s the plotline, secondly there’s the emotions he manipulates you into feeling, usually using the plotline and a bunch of heart ending imagery.
This particular Wong Kar-wai (get the feeling I like typing his name yet?) film is split into two halves, the first telling the story of He Qiwu (played by Takeshi Kaneshiro) a Hong Kong police officer whose girlfriend has dumped him on April fool’s day, leaving him unsure if it’s a fools or not. His birthday is a month later so he decides to wait till then, buying a tin of pineapples to mark each day until that date in order to find out if he’s single. Along the way he runs into the gorgeous Brigitte Lin in sunglasses, raincoat and wig who’s on her own mission involving Indian immigrants and hidden messages in sardine tins.
It’s not a bad story by any means and I’ve encountered/crushed epically on Brigitte Lin before but it’s the weaker of the two in my opinion. Particularly as the majority of Chungking Express’s middle finger’s appear early during this story in the form of ridiculously stylised chase scenes. In fact they’re ridiculous turned all the way up to 11 involving a high shutter speed, blue light and not alot else, I assume they’re chase scenes but to be honest they could be anything it’s that hard to tell, but hey it’s Wong Kar-wai.
The second, and in my opinion stronger half, tells the story of officer 633 (a young Tony Leung Chiu Wai) who’s regular beat involves a stop off in a local takeaway. Changing his order causes his steady girlfriend to change her life and take-off, leaving him to wander around aimlessly/failing to notice the crush the new takeaway assistant has on him. It’s pretty standard Wong Kar-wai which means incredibly unusual fare with inspired scenes of a man grooming a dilapidated giant stuffed white teddy. It’s high on artistic merit and keeps the middle fingers to a minimum. It also twists and turns at the end and has a fantastic end line worth going on the journey for.
The only issue I have is that there’s a few forced voice-overs that fall into the ‘stating the bleeding obvious’ category, but then they could just as easily be deliberately done this way just to make me say that! Such is the way of Wong Kar-wai.
Overall then, Chungking Express is pretty much worth it as long as you can stomach the experimental style. It’s a pretty relaxed, effortless film from that sort of director, taking it’s time to build and manoeuvre its audience into the desired emotional states and then mostly delivering big time. You’ll laugh, cry, get pissed off and enjoy all in the same 90 minutes as long as you can stay with it.
One downside though, it’s another fucking ‘Tarantino Presents’ DVD, which is a rant for a different review.