Source: The Nation, March 4, 1996 v262 n9 p35(2).
Title: Chungking Express._(movie reviews) Author: Stuart Klawans
Hong Kong neon: Some filmmakers like to watch it blink, others bask in
its glow. In Chungking Express, the outrageously talented Wong Kar-Wai gives us
a different kind of neon, which stretches across the screen like trailing vines,
turning Hong Kong's alleys and lanes into a jungle of yellow blue, red and
green. On the soundtrack to the accompaniment of dreamy synthesizer pop, a man
speaks of strangers in this urban thicket who pass within an inch of one
another. Random meetings, missed connections: As we soon learn, the speaker is a
lovesick cop, while the woman who is the object of his meditation - we see her
pushing through the crowd in off-kilter, neon-smeared slow motion - is a
desperate criminal. Not that the cop knows or cares. He just wants to console
himself for the night.
The adventure of Policeman 223 (Takeshi Kaneshiro)
and the unknown woman (blond wig, dark glasses, belted Chanel raincoat; played
by Brigitte Lin) takes up the first half of Chungking Express. In the second
half, the point of view shifts from man to woman: from Policeman 223 to Faye
(Faye Wang), the new counter girl at a fast-food stall in the market. She, too,
lives through a near-encounter, with Policeman 663 (Tony Chiu-Wai Leung). Having
developed a secret crush on him, Faye starts sneaking into his apartment and
rearranging things, just to make herself felt. Unfortunately, 663 is as
distracted as 223; it takes him a while to catch on.
missed connections: Like the characters themselves, these two stories in
Chungking Express almost come together but don't. They pass within an inch of
each other, brushing by at the fastfood stall where both 223 and 663 stop to
eat. You might say, then, that Chungking Express asks us how much we know about
people, even the ones we love, in the lonely crowd of city life - though that's
an awfully banal question for a filmmaker as lively as Wong Kar-Wai. He'd rather
ask something like, "How fast is food?"
Wong, it seems, has noticed that
some foods actually speed up - like the cans of pineapple that 223 keeps buying,
with an eye toward the date stamped on them. Love expires; pineapple expires. If
he hasn't heard from his former lover by a given day, then he figures the affair
is over. Trouble is, as the date approaches, the soon-to-expire cans hurry
offthe grocery shelves, making it impossible for 223 to buy his daily talisman
Another question: How often can you listen to "California
Dreamin" without resolving to go there? Faye owns a tape of the song and plays
it over and over, loud, until the owner of the fast-food stall screams in pain.
Policeman 663 doesn't much notice - yet I assume Faye is playing it for him, so
he'll maybe forget the airline stewardess who dumped him and realize there's
someone who would gladly fly away with him, given the chance.
I leave it
to you to compare the flight dreams of Faye with the more pressing need for
flight of the unknown woman. Women are always taking the active role in
Chungking Express - making plans, flying away, breaking laws big and small -
while policemen mope around and miss the point. Or do they? Though they seem too
sunk in the past to be much good at police work, the men are brilliant at
investigating such subjects as the relationship between tears (unspilled) and
sweat (poured out on the jogging track). An investigation that's only marginally
useful, you might say. And yet some things may be savored even if they aren't
practical: expiring pineapple, jungle-like neon, the new love that's getting
away from you even while you're mourning the old love that's lost. Add to the
list of delicacies Chungking Express - a movie that's as sweet and sad as
morning-after grin in an empty room.