Chungking Express

Chungking Express ★★★★★

I first saw Chunking Express a year or so ago. It was my first Wong Kar-Wai. While I liked it, particularly the second story, I wasn’t blown away. Shortly after that I saw 2046, and fell in love with Wong Kar-Wai. Going through the Days of Being Wild / In the Mood for Love / 2046 trilogy only cemented this emotion. My wife bought the Criterion Blu of Chunking, so, we thought we’d give it a re-watch before further exploring the Wong filmography.

What can I say, I was giddy with happiness. What didn’t impress or move me the first time certainly did on this re-watch. I felt absolutely transfixed.

What I noticed in this viewing was the emphasis on how close the characters came physically ( we were 0.01cm apart ) before their actual meeting, or, non-meeting. Perhaps it’s just because I recently re-watched Doctor Zhivago where a similar trope was used between Lara and Yuri that this theme was on my mind. It is something that has always fascinated me. For every time that we’ve bumped into someone we know, perhaps from long ago, how many times have they been within 100 feet of us without us knowing? How close did we come to meeting future lovers sometime before we actually met? What a great mystery.

Another thing I was paying attention to is the handoff between the first and second stories. Originally, I had missed it entirely. This time I spotted the ‘0.01cm’ voiceover by Cop 223 in the Midnight Express about Faye, and how 2 hours later she was in love with another man. Brilliant!

My Wife and I re-watched with the commentary track the next day. This is only the second time we’ve ever done this. Nothing earthshaking as far as interpretations of the film, but some interesting facts and observations. The nugget I liked best was that it was Brigitte Lin’s ( unnamed women in blonde wig in the first half ) last role before retiring from acting, and Faye Wong’s ( Faye in the second act ) first role in film. The end of the first act is a still frame of Lin, and the beginning of the second act is a still frame of Wong. How poetic.

One other thing hit me on this viewing. I loved the cinematography. This isn’t big news as Wong’s photography ( in this case executed by Christopher Doyle and Wai Kaung Lau ) is universally praised. But! I only realized after the screening that 50% or more was handheld. I’m being a hypocrite here because I usually criticize the modern use of handheld shakeycam. This film didn’t bother me in the least. Perhaps because it seemed to fit so well, it didn’t seem to be deliberately artsy, and the other 50% was either really steady handheld, or, traditionally shot.

While on the subject of potentially ‘artsy’ cinematographic devices, Wong’s generous use of ‘step’ technique during the handheld sequences didn’t bother me ether. In fact, I appreciated it. It didn’t smack of ‘artsy’, yet it was. Likewise the ‘twin speed’ effect, where the foreground character is in slow motion, where the background is in sped up motion’. It really worked for me, and enhanced the scenes it was used in. It emphasized to me the deep thought that the character in focus was in while the world sped by. Close observation reveals that this was a practical effect, and Wong was a real groundbreaker here. As the commentary points out, MTV followed, and now some think of Wong’s use of these techniques as simply aping MTV, while in reality it’s the other way around.

Finally, many have objected about Wong’s repetition of songs. I feel it mates perfectly with his style of repetition of scenes. I can’t really put it into words, but it makes me feel at home with the story and the characters.

Although I think I’ve already stated it, Wong is now officially my second favourite Director. I can’t wait to explore the rest of his filmography.

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