A Misunderstood Masterpiece: CHUNGKING EXPRESS

Wong Kar-wai is one of the best filmmakers from one of the most significant film movements, the Hong Kong New Wave. I’d argue he is one of the best filmmakers, full stop without any necessary qualifications. And, in my opinion, Chungking Express is his best film. Supposing one plus one still equals two, that makes this one of the best films ever made. 

Two police officers in separate stories fall in love with different women. In the first, detective 223 (Takeshi Kaneshiro), probably because of his incessant behavior, can’t seem to favor a return phone call from his ex-girlfriend. He resolves to buy individual cans of pineapples that expire on his birthday, May 1st, for 30 days. Logically, if she doesn’t return his calls by then, their love can be properly deemed expired. As he waits, he ends up falling for a woman in a blond wig (Brigitte Lin) with some drug dealer problems to work out.

The second story centers on the efforts of Faye (Faye Wong), a worker at the titular snack bar, to catch the eye of 663 (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai). His old partner, a flight attendant, knows he’s a regular at the Chungking Express and brings a note accompanied with her key to his apartment. Faye sees this as an opportunity to redecorate his messy apartment. Sneaking in when he’s at work and when she should be working, she buys pillows, changes his sheets, cleans the sink, accidentally kills some of his fish, floods his apartment, and more.

Wong’s known for his visuals, and rightly so. They are one of the most unique experiences in modern cinema. Often partnered with cinematographer Christopher Doyle, Wong’s style uses color and the human body to synthesize into a pure kinetic display. He cares so much about the movement of bodies, often beautiful ones that dance, have fun, and end up wet. Even without subtitles, because of the kineticism, one would never be completely lost at the hands of these two filmmakers. One film scholar describes his signature manipulation of film rate or “step-printing”  where the rate is essentially doubled to imitate slow-motion: “[the style] liquefies hard blocks of primary color into iridescent streaks of light.” It puts the bodies in and out of focus as they drown and resurface from the oversaturated colors created by step-printing. The same scholar summarizes, “Wong Kar-wai must be considered one of cinema’s truly cinematic auteurs.”

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