Alone, together

9 Jan

Chungking Express (1994)


One of the draw back from watching too many films is the jaded weariness that you get from watching too many mediocre films in between great films. Your viewing experience becomes repetitive, predictable and dull, like having the same meal everyday. Cinema addiction is like crack addiction, the more you smoke ‘em the more you need ‘em to get the same buzz. ‘Chungking Express’ gives off the same type of buzz, it hits you in so many different spots that it made you remember why you love cinema in the first place.

Film works best in a heightened reality, somewhere between reality and fantasy. I’m not trying to discredit films that focus more on realism or fantasy because they are great in their own world, but in most cases when you’re watching films that are too obsessed with being realistic it gets claustrophobic very quickly because it’s missing the basic ingredient of cinema; the wonder of being in a different world. The same thing applies with films that become too focus on the fantasy side, they’ve become so far detached from reality because there is no anchor to ground the films.

‘Chungking Express’ is a fine example of a film that exists in a heightened reality, it has a grandeur vision of a bigger than life but also grounded and deeply personal to make it relatable. ‘Chungking Express’ is a film about people who are coping with their own pain and broken hearts in a drenched neon lit world of restless urban alienation, where the noise is so great the characters withdrawn to their quirky lonely worlds and isolation to cope with their wounded souls.


There is cop 223 (Takeshi Kaneshiro) a detective who’s still pinning for his ex-girlfriend and tries to mend his broken heart by eating expired cans of pineapple because he’s obsessed with expiration date. His path will soon meet up with a blond wigged femme fatale drug smuggler (Brigitte Lin) who just got double crossed. There is cop 663 (Tony Leung) a uniformed cop who patrols at night who’s been dumped by his air hostess girlfriend and misdirects/unburdens his pain by talking to inanimate objects; a stuffed bear, a soap, a rag. Unbeknownst to him, the girl who works behind the 24-hr deli counter-where he usually eats- secretly falls in love with him.

From an outset the film may look like some kind of crappy Hong Kong romantic cop genre that’s purely made as a crowd pleaser but Wong Kar-Wai has always been known as a subversive maverick in Hong Kong’s mainstream cinema and ‘Chungking Express’ is no exception. The story is not about the typical cops who chase bad guys and filled with heavy laden formulaic plots but it’s about characters who happen to be cops who are living through their inner worlds. That’s the big difference that separates Wong Kar-Wai from the rest of mainstream Hong Kong filmmakers, the daring vision to make story from the inner beings of his characters. In Wong Kar-Wai’s world, plot takes the back seat while characters and their inner worlds will always be upfront.

Another consistent theme from Wong Kar-Wai is the chance encounter between two wounded souls that is portrayed by cop 223 and blonde wigged lady. Although it’s unlikely these two will consummate their relationship to anything remotely emotional or physical, their bond however fleeting is comforting and real enough. In the midst of desolation and isolation there is always hope of finding someone you can connect with. This simple rare human connection in the middle of a barren emotional wasteland is surprisingly more precious and tender than most typical love stories in movies. And Wong Kar-Wai always made it brazenly cool, not with a bang but with a quiet whisper and a gentle nod of understanding.


‘Chungking Express’ also resonates more with it’s depiction of human connection through it’s own unique quirky way, as in the case of cop 663 and girl from the deli. Unable to show her affection openly,  She would clean his apartment, re-arrange his furnitures without him knowing about it, while she keeps it cool whenever he eats at her deli.  That is truly the central idea behind ‘Chungking Express’, each character’s quirky way to attempt to express themselves and colliding with each other. Though their own journey of being lost and dealing with the unrequited love, it never feels depressing or dark. It feels like things will eventually turn around and something blissful will happen.

The stylistic elements of ‘Chungking Express’ cinematography that is mtv-ish through the use of iconic handheld cinematography by Christopher Doyle  captures the restless energy of Hong Kong with an undercurrent of melancholy through the use of jarring step printing, slow/fast motion, neon lights, strong primary colors, fluorescent jungle of 24 hr convenience stores/underpass/streets/shops/cosmopolitan to enhance the feeling of being lost in the sea of sights and sounds.

‘Chungking Express’ is more than just a great film, it’s a homage to cinema on why we love cinema in the first place. It’s a stunning ‘art film’ that doesn’t feel contrived or ‘intellectual’. It is playful, deep, stylized, bouncy with colorful references from pop culture/French new wave and an open poem about finding human connection. It’s the pure joy of what cinema can give you, making the ordinary into extraordinary.

4 Responses to “Alone, together”

  1. Inspired Ground (@InspiredGround) January 28, 2013 at 1:54 pm #

    I really should see this soon, heard great reviews about it

  2. joegievano January 29, 2013 at 4:41 am #

    yup, it’s a must. even tarantino loved it so much he distributed the dvd in the US under his name.

  3. Pinky June 22, 2013 at 11:54 am #

    This is the best review I have read of this film. I have watched this movie for a million times just to fully understand what Wong Kar Wai is trying to deliver to his audience. It is indeed a very great ‘art’ film. And yeah, who needs those over-the-top cheesy mainstream movies these days when you can watch “Chungking Express.” 🙂

    • joegievano June 22, 2013 at 5:57 pm #

      Thanks for the kind words. Yup, too many ‘romantic’ films nowadays are so predictable and just plain painful to watch. We need more films that are brave enough to be different but also accessible as well.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: