Chungking Express by Wong Kar Wai (1994, Hong Kong) explores the themes of love, isolation and uncertainty via two narratives. Wong Kar Wai thought of the story as his film Ashes of Time was delayed in the post-production state.
Chungking Express is chronologically Wong Kar Wai’s fourth film and it marks the usage of romance in his narrative for his later films. Wong Kar Wai’s film style has always been highly stylized and emotionally triggering. He also likes to use vivid imagery to represent the desire of something or a message.
Watching the film as a normal audience, you would definitely grab the concept of the film. Lovelorn people seeking for their true love in a dense and fast-paced country, that’s what most people, would see. However, looking from another angle, you could actually see the film paying homage to many other great scenes in other films.
For example, one of the protagonists played by veteran actress Brigette Lin dons a Blonde Wig and a Khaki trench coat – the character bears similarities to the titular movie protagonist Gloria by John Cassavetes (1980, America). Another great example would be the Midnight Express by Alan Parker (1978, America/Britain) where the protagonists constantly hangs out at the aforementioned place to seek for love.
The chase scene at the start is also one of the more memorable scenes as Wong Kar Wai uses fast paced camera movements and blurry effects of the camera to isolate the protagonists from the surroundings, accentuating on the theme of isolation.
(Expiration date on the canned pineapples)
The imagery of canned pineapples, expiration dates and the plain old Chef’s salad reflects on Wong Kar Wai’s state of mind and intentions where he wanted the film to resonate with the audience, particularly the Hong Kong citizens. He was worried about the handover of Hong Kong and he puts his anxiety and worries into his characters.
Wong Kar Wai also uses music to add on to his film, particularly the iconic songs California Dream and Faye Wong’s Cantonese rendition of The Cranberries’s Dream. He used the songs to represent the character’s dreams and desire for love.
Wong Kar Wai is known to be part of the Hong Kong new wave, and during the 1990s, film in Hong Kong was in a crisis due to the Asian financial crisis and over-production of films. This didn’t deter Wong Kar Wai though, he continued to produce various films and he created his own style of filming through experimenting in his first few films, including Chungking Express.
Wong Kar has greatly influenced many current filmmakers and one of his biggest fans would be Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino is especially a fan of Chungking Express as he is impressed by Wong Kar Wai’s usual non-linear narrative in the story and the experimental shots that Wong Kar Wai did for the film.
‘Wong Kar Wai has that same energy that like you know, Hong Kong tends to bring into its cinema. But he’s also taking a cue from the French new wave film, from the late 50s or 60s, the film that Godard did.’ – Quentin Tarantino on Wong Kar Wai’s film style
Certain films also made references to the Chungking Express itself too. In Rush Hour (1998, America), Chris Tucker’s character made a reference that he won’t want to take care of a Chungking Cop. A Chungking cop perhaps refers to a lovelorn cop as the cops in Chungking Express are portrayed in such manner.
Looking at the cultural aspect of the film, people in Hong Kong could definitely identify themselves with the characters portrayed in the film as it reflects how they felt at that point of time. The handover of Hong Kong is definitely one of their biggest worries and Wong Kar Wai reflected that through the cinematography in the film. He also made references to how lonely a person could be in a fast-paced country. It is an irony because one would be able to have more interaction in a dense country but Hong Kong didn’t allow her citizens to do that.
The seeking of romance and feeling of uncertainty is also built in the film through the characters, especially the cops portrayed by Tony Leung and Takeshi Kaneshiro who both turn to personifying objects to talk to them. This signifies their loneliness and they can only talk to inanimate objects. Wong Kar Wai’s deliberate attempt in showing this is a commendable effort as you see reality portrayed in the film.
From Wong Kar Wai’s film style and techniques to the correctly portrayed characters, I think Chungking Express is something so simple and yet so magical as you wouldn’t expect something like that to come out from Wong Kar Wai at the point of time. I think the film accurately portrays what Wong Kar Wai has to say to the 1997 event itself and it is definitely something you could watch while in your free time, munching on your popcorn.
About the author: Jasper Yeo loves to ‘cook up’ stories and of course ,food. He also loves to draw and his dream job is to be a writer or a chef.
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2. En.wikipedia.org. 1997. Cinema of Hong Kong – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. [online] Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cinema_of_Hong_Kong#Years_of_transformation_.281970s.29 [Accessed: 23 Jun 2013].
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4. Theyshootpictures.com. 2007. TSPDT – Wong Kar-wai. [online] Available at: http://www.theyshootpictures.com/karwaiwong.htm [Accessed: 23 Jun 2013].
5. YouTube. 2006. Quentin Tarantino on Chungking Express. [online] Available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?gl=SG&v=DX8aUixCpek&hl=en-GB [Accessed: 23 Jun 2013].