Chungking Express (1994) Review


Director: Kar-Wai Wong

Writer: Kar-Wai Wong

Actors: Brigitte Lin, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Tony Chiu-Wai Leung, Faye Wong


Wong Kar-Wai's films are the type that you really need to look deep into to understand why they are effective. I remember watching In The Mood For Love, and focusing on all of the subtle details that made that movie great. It was a romance film where the romance was not directly shown. Rather, it was seen through subtle elements like body language, character's looks, or even the cinematography. Wong Kar-Wai looks at romance very differently than many other directors I have seen. His films focus on the subtlety of romance. Rather than having this grand story where the characters are pouring their hearts out and professing their love for one another, his films focus on the subtle nuances that show that they are in love. Watching Chungking Express, I didn't really know what to expect. What I got was another take on how Wong Kar-Wai sees romance and how it can be approached in a subtle way. 

Chungking Express focuses on the story of two cops and their adventures in love. The film is essentially split into two halves, each focusing on the love story of the cop. On a surface level, the two stories may seem unrelated and it may confuse some people. However, to me I felt a great deal of connection between both stories. First I felt they somewhat gave out opposing feelings. The first story felt like two people who are not meant to fall in love, it just happens. We know that these characters cannot be together because of their difference in lifestyle, yet they intrigue us. Whereas in the second story, the audience feels like these two characters are perfect for each other. They both seem humble, down to earth, and completely compatible. Their back and forth makes the audience anticipate the moment they are finally together. Not only did these two stories give out opposing feelings, they also had some similarities. The main one being the feeling of loneliness that both cops exude. You can sense through their lifestyle and the way they are conveyed how lonely they really are. It is obviously more clear with the first story, but it is also evident with the second one. This sense of loneliness is what in my opinion leads the audience to root for both cops to have a "happily ever after". All in all, I felt like although on a surface level both stories felt unrelated, looking deeper made me realize how well they both play off of each other.

When it comes to Chungking Express, as well as other films by Wong Kar-Wai, the main plot is not necessarily the focus of the film. As I explained previously, the subtle nuances are what make the film great. The way the characters look at each other, the words they use, their body language, the framing of the shot, the colors, the music, and many more. These are what make the directors films special. It is a careful symphony between the actors and the people behind the camera that ultimately creates these subtle elements that contribute to the actual romance of the film. The actors understand what the director wants and the director knows how to convey that. This is why his films work as romance films even though they aren't as forward as traditional films of the same genre. Although Chungking Express was not as good in this aspect when compared to In The Mood For Love, it still managed to do a great job and give out a memorable experience.

Although the film does so many aspects right, there are still some elements that I wished were improved upon. The cinematography and the soundtrack is one thing. I am not saying that they weren't good, far from it. But you can sense that there was still much more potential to be seen from Wong Kar-Wai. This was evident when he released In The Mood For Love, six years after this one, and you can see the maturity in his film making. This film sort of misses the bar with a lot of those elements. Hong Kong is still represented really well, with the bright neon lights and the dark alleyways, I feel like he still did a great job in capturing the city. The soundtrack and music choice was overall a bit disappointing. It served its purpose, but that's about it. Whereas In The Mood For Love had beautiful music and it really elevated the film. However, the film is far from a failure in these regards. You can sense that Wong Kar-Wai played it somewhat safe with some of the choices he made, but overall it was an enjoyable experience.

After watching Chungking Express, I wish I could have seen it before In The Mood For Love. If I had watched it before, I feel like both films would have had a greater affect on me. I could have seen the progression in Wong's career more clearly and felt it as I went from one movie to the other. Furthermore, I would have probably appreciated Chungking Express more since I would not have compared it as much if I had watched it first. However, the comparison is inevitable. Both films, although very different, possess one major similarity which is the subtlety of romance. Watching these two films proved that romance doesn't have to be this grand expression that makes you want to cry and wail. Sometimes all you need is someone going from shop to shop looking for pineapple that expires on a certain date.