FILM (1994)

Rewind, film: 'Chungking Express' directed by Wong Kar-wai

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 January, 2018, 11:56am

Chungking Express

Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Faye Wong, Takeshi Kaneshiro

Director: Wong Kar-wai

Shot over two months with writer-director Wong Kar-wai penning the script as he went along, Chungking Express is one of the most romantic films ever made in Hong Kong - and certainly the coolest.

It's really two films stitched together with parallels between the two stories. In each there's a lovesick policeman who has been jilted by his girlfriend and both cops hang out at the same takeaway food stall, Midnight Express.

This was the very early days of Wong's collaboration with Australian cinematographer Christopher Doyle and they are a great team, the avant-garde direction a perfect match for Doyle's stylised camerawork. Sometimes dazzling, sometimes dreamy, it's an intoxicating take on the city. Scenes are sometimes fast-forwarded - clouds racing across the sky or a cop running full tilt - and others slowed down so that light and colour are blurred.

We get a strong sense of city life, of being lost in a crowd, and the voice-over monologues emphasise the isolation of the heartbroken cops. There are plenty of sad, reflective moments, but it's not a gloomy movie thanks to its quirky humour and the burst of sunshine that is Faye Wong.

The first part takes place mostly in and around Chungking Mansions in Tsim Sha Tsui and Cop 223 (Takeshi Kaneshiro) has been dumped by his girlfriend on April Fool's Day. He decides to "let the joke run a month" until his birthday on May 1 and every day buys a tin of pineapple with an expiry date of May 1 in the belief that by then he'll either be back with her or their love will have expired.

The second cop, 663 (Tony Leung) - who is mooning over his break-up with his flight attendant girlfriend - is even "quirkier". He talks to household objects - there's a long and touching conversation with a dish cloth. And then in bursts Faye Wong's character, who works at the snack bar, loves loud music and absolutely makes the film.

Wong's Cantonese version of The Cranberries hit Dreams is featured and definitely helped raise her profile. The other tune that will stay with you for days after is California Dreaming by The Mamas and the Papas, which is cut through many of Wong's scenes and is the perfect match for her whimsical hopes to escape the city.

Wong Kar-wai has made some fantastic films since - Happy Together (1997), In the Mood for Love (2000), 2046 (2004) - and all with Doyle, but this is still his best.

Kate Whitehead