“Love you for 10,000 years…”
In 1994, a big bang occurred. Not of a new universe, but of the filmmaking variety. In this film, you enter it being one type of person and leave it a completely different one. Chungking Express is a film that constantly dares you—and sometimes outright mocks you—to make sense of it. Wong Kar-Wai’s (possible) masterpiece is cinema of feeling. It accesses the deepest parts of your being that you thought you shut out to the world. The kaleidoscopic concrete jungle is impossibly inviting for the type of audience member who always feels that twinge of loneliness in the back of his mind and deep in his heart. It reaches for your hand, and for two hours, you’ll start to believe you can be romanced by a movie.
The film hits the ground running, literally. He Zhiwu (Takeshi Kaneshiro), a lovesick cop who serves as the focus for the first portion, waxes poetic about our obliviousness to the lives of the people we carelessly bump into on the street… as he’s rolling people over in an attempt to catch a criminal in the deliriously crowded streets of Hong Kong. In most other films, a criminal catching scene would go a bit differently. The music for the scene isn’t tense; it’s somber and strangely entrancing. The editing isn’t haphazardly cut; it’s dreamlike, flowing in and out in a way that’s authoritative and challenging. Not a single aspect of the film is spared from the seemingly ever-present heartbreak. It haunts the film like a ghost that can never seem to make peace with itself. This only increases with He Zhiwu meets the “Woman in Blonde Wig”, a smuggler who isn’t having the best day.
He Zhiwu’s situation with the Woman couldn’t possibly be more ironic. He Zhiwu is in a dipping-pineapple-in-ketchup-laced desperation following the breakup with his girlfriend and finds an odd companionship in the Woman. What follows between them is a beautiful line-blurring will-they-won’t-they that always seems destined to end in disaster (you know, the whole cop thing and all). But as with everything in Chungking Express, the answer given isn’t what you want from a movie, but it’s an answer you need. Wong Kar-Wai never shies away from the pain of what’s unspoken. Sometimes all you have to do is feel the rain and bump into someone next.
Before you can sing “California Dreamin'” in its entirety, the film switches to otherworldly ingenue Faye (Faye Wong) and “Cop 663” (Leung Chiu-Wai). Theirs provides the most comic material of the film, as Cop 663’s melancholy is perfectly balanced by the freewheeling Faye and her dreams of something more beyond the zaniness of Hong Kong. “California Dreamin'” by the Mamas and Papas comes and goes from the film like a best friend or a loved one, and provides Faye with a leitmotif. A wet boarding pass and a glint in the eye later, and one of the best endings to a romance (and a film) of modern cinema is given fruit.
One of the shining stars of brilliance of Chungking Express is Wong Kar-Wai’s dedication to the concept that anything can happen as long as we bump into the right people, the centimeters that come between destinies and different universes that are born between two people. It is ingrained in the film and its filmmaking like blood cells. The camera moves and swirls like a vessel of fate itself. It watches over, takes part in, mourns with, and celebrates. It’s some of the most involved and active cinematography you’re bound to see in any film. And the craziest part of this fever dream masterpiece is that it can be considered an “off” movie for its director. One of Hong Kong Second Waves’ darlings, Wong Kar-Wai was faced with a particularly grueling production of Ashes of Time. He started a two month break where Chungking Express was born and released before he continued production, something for Wong to feel comfortable in making movies again.
I mean, if only we could crank out one of the best films ever made as a side project because we felt like it. Show off.
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