By Michael Kalafatis (Stoke On Trent)
Directed by Wong Kar- Wai, starring Takeshi Kaneshiro, Brigitte Lin, Tony Leung and Faye Wong.
Chungking Express revolves around two narratives, each has a policeman as the main character. The first story is about He Qiwu (Takeshi Kaneshiro) who is also known as Cop 223. Qiwu has broken up with his girlfriend May, and Wong Kar-Wai shows us Qiwu obsessive efforts to rekindle their relationship. At the same story a woman with blonde wig and sunglasses (Brigitte Lin) tries to survive in the world of drug smuggling. Both characters eventually meet and comfort each other. The second story concerns an unnamed cop who is only known as Cop 663 (Tony Leung), who is also dealing with a recent break up but also meets a girl at a snack bar called Faye (Faye Wong). Faye falls in love with him, without him realising it and she becomes infatuated with him to the point she visits his apartment while he is at work and starts to redecorate and improve it. The thing that unifies these two stories is Midnight Express, a snack bar where both policemen are seen to spend a lot of time but never manage to meet each other.
The theme of unrequited love and identity are the main themes that engulfs Chungking Express and Kar-Wai manages to shows these themes in two different ways: the two main characters are unable to forget their past relationships and move on with their lives and the city which makes them question their own identity thus becoming an important aspect of these characters lives, a jungle that is swarming with people of different nationalities, which enhance the theme of loneliness and the need to connect with someone. This ineptitude to connect is what makes them unable to move on with their lives, and their obsession with their past lives manage to preoccupied their present lives to an unhealthy degree.
Chungking Express display a very minimalistic narrative, and put more emphasis on various cinematic techniques to enrich its simplistic narrative. From the start of the film where we see Qiwu chasing someone on the crowded street of Hong Kong, we instantly realise that we are going to see a highly stylised film as from this opening sequence we see the use of energetic editing and shots that mimicking someone running and the use of highly saturated colour palette. This opening sequence oozes of energy and has as a result for the viewers to see blurred images of Qiwu, this manage to bring out the sense of urgency and fast paced movement that the film is trying and succeeding to convey.
This technique is repeated only in the first story and only when actions occurs like when Qiwu chases criminals or when the woman with the blonde wig shoots criminals. But the main attraction of the film like most Wong Kar-Wai films is the cinematography by his long-time collaborator Christopher Doyle whose colour palate is sometimes highly saturated or desaturated depending on the mood of the characters and he often frame scenes in irregular angles to show that the main characters lead troubled and disharmonious lives.
Chunking Express is a very experimental film and it can easily be seen as film belonging to the 1960s French New Wave movement. As a film is highly indebted to the films of Jean-Luc Godard, films like Contempt (1963) and Pierrot Le Fou (1965) which subvert the conventions of storytelling and cinematic techniques to tell unique stories that have both style and substance. A similar thing Wong Kar-Wai has done on Chungking Express, a film that at first seem to be only about style but as the film progresses we start to relate and feel sympathy with the plights of the protagonists and because the film is highly stylised it becomes more entertaining while plot wise presenting a very uneventful story.