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Chungking Express

*****
1994

‘…a minor miracle of modern cinema, a sweet-hearted lightheaded meditation of the ups and down of romantic love that should leave any audience walking on air…’

A regular question I get is; what’s the most enjoyable film you’ve ever seen? The answer depends on who is asking; if it’s a taxi-driver, and it usually is, Die Hard is usually an unquestionably great, loved-by-all movie that works for those unlikely to have seen Lindsay Anderson’s O Lucky Man or Pasolini’s Trilogy of Life. But a case can and should be made for Chungking Express, a wonderfully ethereal film that blows the mind on each and every watch.

Full disclosure, Wong Kar-wei made a series of disappointing films since films like this, Fallen Angels and Happy Together made him a world-beating director; it would be hard to raise too much enthusiasm for gorgeous but vapid entries like 2046, My Blueberry Nights or even the chaotic The Grandmaster. Better to grab a return ticket for Chungking Express, a two part story that takes its name from a dubious fast food outlet and exudes joy and humanity in every frame.

Set in rainsoaked, claustrophobic urban Hong Kong, the first, bitter-sweet story concerns Cop 223 (Takeshi Kaneshiro), who has just broken up with his girlfriend. His police duties are interspersed with melancholy as he hunts through his local bodegas for tins of food with an expiration date that happens to be before his breakup date; that’s how he marks the passage of time since his heart was broken.

If the first story details unrequited love, the second is pure romance of the sweetest kind. Cop 663 (Tony Leung) breaks up with his air-stewardess girlfriend, and leaves their keys behind the counter of a local fast-food bar to be picked up. Unknown to Cop 663, they fall into the hands of his secret admirer, Faye (Faye Wong, mad AF), who regularly breaks into the policeman’s apartment while he’s out on duty and makes a number of subtle changes in the hope that he’ll eventually recognise her love. While there are grand gestures in both stories, this beautiful idea, of eventually understanding love through a thousand almost imperceptible gestures, makes Chungking Express something of a joy to behold, with an upbeat soundtrack and gorgeous photography of stunning locations and charismatic leads on the way up.

With the Mammas and the Papas’ Californian Dreaming set to repeat and a haunting cover of The Cranberries’ Dreams to boot, Chungking Express is a minor miracle of modern cinema, a sweet-hearted, lightheaded meditation of the ups and down of romantic love that should leave any audience walking on air. While the director’s more mature work has its adherents, Chungking Express really is one of cinema’s most transporting, game-changing experiences.

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  1. Bit late to this… great film huh?

    And two cinematographers! You can see where Doyle picks up about halfway through.

    Faye Wong…. what to say… sexy, mesmerising, hilarious

    And that Tony Leung introduction walk into the camera…. that, ladies and gentleman, is what’s known as a ‘film star’!

    (a dying breed, alas)

    nice to see this reviewed… do a few hitchcocks now and i might just add this site to my favourites hehe!

    • Glad to hear this! After I published, felt a wave of insecurity, was this as good as I remembered! Thanks for confirming, it’s not just me!

  2. There is a lot to say about Wong Kar-wai. I think Chungking Express got more attention because its US release was supported by Tarantino and in the UK it was discussed in relation to the early work of Godard. Personally, I prefer Days of Wild and In the Mood for Love but I like the pairing of Chungking Express and Fallen Angels as well. What has happened to Hong Kong cinema generally is a travesty/tragedy since the general move to the mainland for filmmakers and actors. Johnnie To is still making movies though.

  3. So, if it depends on who is asking what the most enjoyable film you’ve seen is, to whom do you reply “Chungking Express”? Randos on the Internets?

    False labeling on that “English” trailer because I didn’t hear anyone speaking English.

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