Directed by: Wong Kar-wai
Written by: Wong Kar-wai
Starring: Brigitte Lin Chin-Hsia, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Faye Wong
Even when other aspects of life may be thriving, emotional love can have such a stronghold on our well-being. While popular culture wants you to believe this impacts women more than men, The Chungking Express displays the opposite where the men pine for women unwilling to give them the time of day. An equally moody and hilarious telling of two stories saying different things.
He Qiwu (Takeshi Kaneshiro) deals with his recent break up by trying to meditate on the finality of relationships when he runs into a mysterious and alluring woman (Brigitte Lin). Similarly, a local cop (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai) stops by a local snack shop where he develops a strange relationship with the fascinating Faye (Faye Wong).
For all the melancholy happening in The Chungking Express, it manages to be equally hilarious because of the way the men get gloomy about the prospects of love. The film begins with Qiwu and how he has been processing his recent break up with his girlfriend May. It becomes quite clear she dumped him but he has hopes they will reunite once she comes to her senses. He checks for messages constantly and decides to jog because sweating will reduce the amount of water in his body, thus making it more difficult to cry. His coping method of jogging is so funny because of the way it comes out from the mouth of Takeshi Kaneshiro but also how he questions why anyone else would jog if not for the same reason he partakes in the activity.
Almost everything Qiwu says develops a wonderful balance of both complete moody sadness and humorous ridiculousness because it comes off as so melodramatic. Nothing gets better than the purpose of him buying a can of pineapple slices each day with the expiration date of his birthday until he reaches a total of 30. The final nail in the coffin in their relationship will be if she does not get back with him by the time he purchases the 30th can. It’s simply absurd but it all comes through as a romantic gesture he sets for himself. The sequences with this character made me laugh more than most comedies.
Each character has their quirks including the mysterious woman in the blonde wig portrayed by Brigitte Lin. She helps with a drug operation and sets up the individuals to smuggle the product out of Hong Kong. Things do not go as planned, which sets her on a rampage of trying to retrieve the product before she gets in trouble with whoever she works for. This woman remains mysterious for the entire narrative because she does not receive a name in the story, but also because we never see her unobstructed face. For the entirety of her stretch, she sports sunglasses, a raincoat, and a wig. The only reason she gives arises when she states, she likes to be prepared just in case the weather gets too sunny or it begins to rain. Truly odd behavior, but it shows what makes her so alluring, especially to Qiwu.
While my preferred story from this fantastic film happens between Qiwu and the woman in a blonde wig, the narrative following Cop 663 and Faye carries some whimsical beauty about how people communicate with those they find attractive. With each story, one character receives an actual name while the other remains anonymous and simply gets defined by the way they look. Entirely superficial but the tidbits we get from them make you want to learn even more. Faye works at the snack shop owned by her cousin and appears to have no real direction. She blasts her favorite American songs on the radio where others trying to speak with her have to yell over the loudness of the tunes. Constantly on repeat, she plays “California Dreamin” and the reason does not make itself obvious at first. Her reasons for doing many of her actions in the film feel quite random, but it displays the journey she has begun to understand what she wants in life. Nothing she says directly relates to what she wants until closer to the finality of her time on screen.
Director Wong Kar-wai has mastered the art of setting the mood in his films and as mentioned earlier in the review, he works the sadness and comedy of this story. He shows the men being overly mopey about their circumstance to almost an embarrassing degree where you almost have to tell them to move on, but getting into their head becomes a fun exercise. Wong Kar-wai knows the attractiveness of his cast and allows the camera to follow them and show the beauty they have to offer. He’s obviously no stranger to working with Tony Leung Chiu-wai and allows his nameless character to evoke so much with the little context we receive about his life.
A truly contained story on a literal level but very wide on an emotional level, The Chungking Express allows for our characters to wallow but remains unafraid to make fun of them for it. The film provides the opportunity for a small snack stand to be the center of everything occurring even with drug trafficking and other criminal activities occurring around them. A fun ride with truly loveable characters and a wonderful collaboration with some of the best in Hong Kong cinema.