Chungking Express Movie Review
Chungking Express offers two parallel stories of love and loss brought together by a dine-and-dash eatery. In the first half of the film, a detective (Takeshi Kaneshiro) stops in at the local greasy food dive while pining over his lost love. And in the second half, a beat street cop (Tony Leung) stops in while also pining over his lost love. Although Kaneshiro's desperation and tragic romanticism sparks our interest in the first story of the film, it's the second story that really captures our attention. The power of that second story line comes from Faye Wong, who invades the screen (and Tony Leung's) apartment with childish charm and an obsession with the Mama's and Papa's "California Dreaming."
While Wong is the stand-out star, as her infatuation with Leung sends her sneaking into his apartment to redecorate, Chungking Express truly succeeds because it romanticizes post-relationship pain. We see Kaneshiro calling old girlfriends in an act of lonely desperation and Leung's assumption that his ex-girlfriend is redecorating his apartment, and we can relate to the futility of holding out hope that there's still a chance. Yet the depressing weight of the melodramatic is kept at bay by Wong Kar Wai's humor -- such as when Kaneshiro is buying and eating expired cans of pineapple or Leung is personifying his household items such as a crying dish rag or thinning bar of soap.
Where Wong Kar Wai's later works have a steady hand and clear vision, Chungking Express rushes by with Wong's hand-held camera in tow. The slow-motion shots flash, chasing Kaneshiro through crowded Hong Kong streets, and the free-roaming camera follows Faye Wong through the cramped corners of Leung's apartment. Shot and edited in two months during a break in the filming of Ashes of Time, Express was a way of clearing the cobwebs while he edited the martial arts epic, and its guerilla shooting style shows. But its rapid pace keeps the stories from wearing out their welcome.
Like the Faye Wong cover of The Cranberries "Dreams," the poppy Chungking Express offers enough to relate to without letting the plot lines linger. Showing a person's loneliness in the relationship aftermath lets us connect on a superficial level, without having to plunder the depths of that relationship pain. And Express is better for it. Although it lacks the depth of Wong's other works, Chungking Express prefers a smile to a frown.
Aka Chung Hing sam lam.