The One about Wong Kar-Wai’s “Chungking Express”

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I really love this film.

“CHUNGKING EXPRESS” is the ultimate pop art film that won a lot hearts when it was first released and continues to this day.  And not only has the film jumpstarted the film careers of Wong Kar-wai, Christopher Doyle, Takeshi Kaneshiro and Faye Wong (despite having an awesome music career), “CHUNGKING EXPRESS” is one of those non-action Asian films that has continued to become a fan favorite for fans all over the world.

The first story focuses on the woman with the blonde wig (Brigitte Lin, in her final film before retiring from the entertainment business) and Takeshi Kaneshiro as Cop 223.  With the woman in the blonde wig, she sports a tan trench coat, sunglasses and a blonde wig while constantly smoking her  cigarette elegantly.  But this woman is involved in drug trafficking, as she works with the Indian smugglers and pays them to traffic heroin.  And not only is she being betrayed by her Caucasian boyfriend (messing around with his employee) but now being betrayed by the smugglers who are helping her traffic the drugs (by stealing the drugs) and now she is a target.

Meanwhile, Cop 223 is an undercover cop that feels empty and incomplete after his former girlfriend May leaves him on April 1st.  Thinking it may be an April Fool’s Joke,   Cop 223 refuses to accept that May has left him but to make him believe it’s over, he has to eat 30 cans of pineapple that will expire on May 1, 1994, the day of his 25th Birthday.

After each day at work as he waits for May’s call, he frequents the nearby take-out food store Midnight Express which the owner keeps trying to set him up with his employees.  But Cop 223 is not interested, he still has faith that May will call him.  So, within the 30 days of his breakup, Cop 223 frequents convenience stores and has gathered 30 cans to signify each day that she hasn’t contacted him, thus he has to eat all 30 cans to make him feel some sort of closure. Because it’s almost time for his birthday and she hasn’t called, Cop 223 eats all the pineapple and feels sick to his stomach from eating all the pineapple.  He starts calling up all his lady friends from as far back in grade school to see if he can meet a new woman but to no avail.

Feeling queasy, he feels he needs to drink alcohol at a nearby bar to make him feel better band he eventually meets the woman with the blonde wig.  What happens when these two individuals meet each other? To bridge the next story, Cop 223 returns back to the Midnight Express and the owner tells him that he would like to set her up with his new employee Faye (Faye Wong) but Faye has her eyes set on another guy which leads to the second story. In this story, Cop 663 (Leung Chiu Wai) dates an airline stewardess.

But there is something lacking in their relationship and she leaves him.  She leaves a note with the owner of the Midnight Express to give to Cop 663 but he doesn’t want to read it.  Meanwhile, Faye (Faye Wong) who constantly blasts her Mamas and Papas “California Dreamin’” starts to fall for Cop 663.

Since he won’t read the note that his ex left her, she reads it and notices that she leaves his apartment keys in the letter. She senses that 663 is out of it… almost sleep walking in his life. In fact, the only things he talks to is a bar of soap, a wet towel and his stuff animal.   He’s such in a daze that Faye takes matters in her own hand and thus his apartment keys from the letter his ex left for him and starts to go through his apartment and see what kind of life he has lived.

Seeing how he is in a daze and keeps thinking of his ex, Faye does the unthinkable by changing things in his apartment each day.  From changing the labels to his sardine stash, changing his slippers, changing stickers on his mirror, changing the stuff animal, soap and towel that he talks to, filling up his empty aquarium with fish and for 663, being so out of it, he doesn’t even realize the changes at first but slowly discovers it and thus help him recover from his breakup.  All is good and Faye’s plan seems to be working, that is until he discovers her in his apartment.

What will happen between these two individuals?  What will happen when Cop 663 sees his ex-girlfriend again?

What is it about this storyline that makes it so different from any other relationship/breakup/finding love again type of film?  The difference are the little cuts in between that make the film so avant garde.  We learn in the commentary that Wong Kar-wai was a graphic designer and design and art has influenced him.  “CHUNGKING EXPRESS” is a work of art, from it’s storytelling and it’s cinematography.  Wong and Christopher Doyle are a tag team that when combined, good things happen.

There are moments in the film such as when Faye Wong starts rummaging through Cop 663’s room and even at one time with a microscope, looking for hair particles on the bed and just going crazy.  Part of that quirkyness comes from Faye Wong, a pop diva in Asia that has won many hearts with her artistic presentation and her music but at the time, although not an established actress at this time Wong Kar-wai found something special about her movements, and that sheer expression and quirkiness really took the film to new heights.

Now that I think about it, I think it’s the mysteriousness that also captivates me.  The woman with the blonde wig.  The police officers known by their numbers, the use of expiration dates, Cop 223 asking a woman if she likes pineapple or trying to eat all these pineapple and doing whatever he can to make it taste different and of course the constant playing of “California Dreamin’” while Faye dances at the “Midnight Express”.  There are so many little things that you remember from the film and never forget.    And that’s why this film is so special?  Everyone who watches it is like a person viewing art and coming away with something different.

Call me bias…but I absolutely love “CHUNGKING EXPRESS”!


 

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Dennis A. Amith