Wong Kar-wai’s Chungking Express released in 1994 is long over due a rerelease and reevaluation. The seeds of the Hong Kong director’s later masterpiece In The Mood For Love are sown in this film, especially in the second half which features the wonderfully nuanced story about Tony Leung’s policeman and Faye Wong’s snack bar worker.
Chungking Express is full of the noisy, messy energy of early nineties Hong Kong. This is perfectly captured by Wong Kar-wai’s inventive Australian-born cinematographer Christopher Doyle whose restless, frenetic camera captures the gritty ,maddening bustle of the city. Camera and subject are in perfect harmony.
It’s no surprise to learn from Quentin Tarantino that Wong was inspired more by the cinematic freedoms of the French new wave than by more traditional Hong Kong films.
This was pop star Faye Wong’s first cinema role and her cropped hair bopping along to California Dreaming belted out of a ghetto blaster as she works in the snack bar has become one of the iconic moments of 90s cinema.
‘Everything comes with an expiry date,’ says one of the characters in the weaker opening story. But the expiry date Wong is thinking about is Hong Kong’s return to mainland Chinese rule and the effects that will have on the city and its residents. Faye Wong’s bopping and music-led defiance seems to be a metaphor for the personal dissent the director thinks is coming.
Dumped by his sexy air hostess girlfriend Tony Leung’s policeman is first stalked by then apparently rejected by Faye Wong’s character. The developing relationship is full of nuances and subtleties underscored by the charms of free will and the attractions of the West, encapsulated by the California Dreaming song itself and the messy, mixed-up world of the Chungking Mansions apartment block where most of the film is shot.
Chungking Express perfectly captures the late twentieth century energy and uncertainty of Hong Kong. It mirrors the energy and uncertainty of the end of the millennium experienced in every major city. It’s a good time to revisit those moments, or experience them for the very first time.