Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Chungking Express (Wong Kar Wai, 1994)

A personal favourite film, Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love is a romantic, sensual masterpiece of filmmaking. Chungking Express, released six years prior, still holds the sensitivity and patience of In the Mood for Love but enjoys a more playful, youthful tone. Both are playing at the BFI Southbank as part of the 'A Century of Chinese Cinema' season throughout September and October.  Chungking Express frames its dual narratives within the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong (many scenes based around the same ‘Midnight Express’ food-stall) whereby the innocent stories of love and criminals on a killing spree seem to merge into the business of life. Chungking Express is a set of moody, tender stories that show that behind the stern exterior of the men of the law is broken hearts and humanity that we can all relate understand.

Two stories are connected by a brief second. The first story follows off-duty cop, He Qiwu (Takeshi Kaneshiro) as he pines after his lost love May. He is desperate to move on and fall in love with another woman, and after a night of pineapple-eating, he meets the woman to adore (played by Brigitte Lin). Unfortunately for him, she is a drug-smuggler who is in hiding after killing off street gang-members after a drug-operation goes south. The second story portrays the romance between an unnamed cop (Tony Leung) and a snack bar worker, Faye (Faye Wong). Cop 663 has seen his steamy relationship with an air-hostess hit the skids, and takes comfort in the coffee and conversation with Faye - only for her to use a key his ex has left behind, to tidy and fool around in his flat. The first story, of a klutz falling for a dangerous, gun-toting dame, plays as an action-come comedy-come-romance while the second story is a twee love-story with friendly, quirky characters.

The connection between the stories is minimal. They both include lonely lovelorn policemen, while the women could not be more different. The use of uniform in the second story is constantly reinforced, whereby the profession of the characters in the first story is never specified by their outfits (in fact, the mysterious woman is almost in disguise as she claims her raincoat and sunglasses combo is due to her cautiousness about the weather, while his desire to imitate Bruce Willis hints at his inability to serve and protect).

The shuddering camera work captures the city effortlessly. We squint and look closer to make out who is on screen and how the events unfold, similar to the experience of trying to take in a busy street at night. Neon-lights and crampt spaces are a feature of Wong Kar Wai, as bodies struggle to move around each other. Strange obsessions and recurring pop-tracks add nuance to characters and almost create a hypnotic and dreamlike world that is a pleasure to be within. Sardines, pineapples and the Mama’s and Papa’s California Dreamin’ become unique, memorable assets to a film that in the characters alone, you are drawn in.

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