***** out of 5
‘I wonder if there’s anything in the World that won’t expire,’ laments lovelorn lawman He Qiwu (Takeshi Kaneshiro) as he collects canned pineapples to mark the days since his girlfriend left him, vowing to wait one month before moving on with his life. Welcome to the World of Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar-Wai – and what a wonderful World it is.
Chungking Express marks Wong’s third outing as director and remains one of his most critically successful films to date. The film is effectively two separate but similar stories, both telling the tale of a lonely cop and the woman he meets and falls for. In the first, Qiwu encounters a mysterious woman in a blonde wig (Brigitte Lin), who appears to be a blend of a number of archetypal American film noir characters rolled into one enigmatic dame. The second centres around Cop 663 (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) who, after being similarly deserted by his air stewardess girlfriend, draws the attentions of the incandescent and bizarre Faye, played by the scintillating Faye Wong.
Both tales are set in the Tsimshatsui area of Hong Kong, principally the Chungking Mansions complex and a snack bar called Midnight Express – with a fusion of the two creating the film’s title. This theme of merger is further emphasised in the overlaps and similarities between the two stories, as well as the duality between characters – both men are cops, two women don blonde wigs and a second pair wear stewardess uniforms.
Aesthetically, Chungking Express is stunning. Wong’s long time collaborator Christopher Doyle’s cinematography is often claustrophobic yet vibrant, whilst his camera work is full of kinetic vigour and the kind of experimental techniques that made the early films of Godard a cinematic selection box of innovation; a number of his dread-tinged handheld close-ups for example are exquisitely pulsating. To this end, the film is less about narrative than it is about moments, and time. In the second story Faye’s cousin notes that she is ‘sleepwalking’ through her days, waiting for a moment to change her life; whilst the first is punctuated by a recurring clock, counting down towards the expiration date on the pineapples and thus symbolically Qiwu’s relationship. Although his fruit will undoubtedly perish, the irresistible quality and charm of Wong’s film will most certainly not.