Wednesday, February 1, 2012

100 Movies - No. 21: Chungking Express

21. Chungking Express (1994)
Comedy, Drama, Mystery, 102 minutes, Cantonese Language
Directed by Wong Kar-Wai
Starring Brigitte Lin, Tony Leung, Faye Wong and Takeshi Kaneshiro

If you look at the cover of Chungking Express, you will catch a glimpse of some of the stylistic choices made by director Wong Kar-Wai. This is a film that intrigues me because of its style rather than the plot itself. Many of the images are blurred deliberately to reflect Hong Kong's fast-paced life. Other segments are shown in slow motion.

The story is in two parts and shows a glimpse into the lives of two policemen. The first has just broken up with his girlfriend, but he's in denial because it happened on April 1 and she might just be playing a joke on him. He decides to give her one month to reveal that she's joking. As she likes pineapple chunks, he decides to buy one can per day until she comes back to him. The cans must have an expiry date of May 1 as that's when her time expires. When she fails to return, he eats all of the 30 cans in one night. I mention that scene as an example because it demonstrates just how original the script is. The way the characters think and behave is extremely strange and that's part of the reason the film works so well for me.

There are essentially four characters in the movie. The first cop, after eating the 30 cans of pineapple chunks, decides to talk to the next woman he encounters. She turns out to be a drug dealer with an interesting story of her own.

The second story is probably the stronger of the two. It concerns a second cop who is about to break up with his girlfriend. She leaves a letter for him at a food bar he regularly frequents. A woman working at the food bar has a crush on him and steals the key to his apartment from the envelope.

The film contains a lot of humor, as well as drama and romance. It's just interesting to visit this strange world and hang out with the characters once in a while. The color palette and quirky plot reminds me somewhat of Amelie and it's not meant to be taken completely seriously. The story offers some thoughts on how random life can be. We can pass strangers in the street and they could become an important part of our lives in the future. One of the characters loves listening to California Dreamin', so be prepared to hear that throughout the second story.

If you like Chungking Express:

There are plenty of other films by Wong Kar-Wai and I would recommend Fallen Angels if you like the style and setting used in Chungking Express. The two films have a similar quirky feel and I'm sure fans of one would like the other.

If you prefer something in English, take a look at My Blueberry Nights from the same director. It stars Jude Law, Norah Jones and Natalie Portman, and one of the main settings is a New York cafe. David Strathairn gives a memorable performance playing a cop who has broken up with his wife.

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