A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Monday, December 26, 2016

Chungking Express (Wong Kar-Wai, 1994)

The American title, Chungking Express, may echo Josef von Sternberg's 1932 Marlene Dietrich classic Shanghai Express, but it resembles that film only in the presence in both of a blond femme fatale -- and in Wong Kar-Wai's film the blond is one only by virtue of a wig. The translated title -- the original meant something like "Chungking Forest" or "Jungle" -- fuses the film's two major settings: the Chungking Mansions, a low-rent building in Hong Kong, and the Midnight Express, a sandwich shop that provides the linkage between the film's two segments. The first part deals with the infatuation of a young police detective, He Qiwu, aka Cop 223 (Takeshi Kaneshiro), with the woman in the blond wig (Brigitte Lin), who is mixed up in a drug-smuggling scheme that goes awry. The second part tells the story of Cop 663 (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai), and his involvement with Faye (Faye Wong), a young woman who works the counter at the sandwich shop. You might say that Chungking Express begins in the world of film noir and ends in that of romantic (and slightly screwball) comedy, but Wong's film transcends the simplicity of genres. As in his masterly In the Mood for Love (2000), Wong is dealing with characters on the brink of an uncertain future, but with a much lighter touch than the later film. The performances are uniformly fine. Faye Wong, a Hong Kong pop star, brings the quirky character of the young Shirley MacLaine to her role, but with a much greater fragility. Like MacLaine, she has been unfairly labeled with the Manic Pixie Dream Girl stereotype. The extraordinary cinematography is by Christopher Doyle and Wai-Keung Lau.

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