“If memories could be canned, would they also have expiry dates?”
Chungking Express (1994), directed by renowned Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar-Wai, is a love letter to love itself. It tells two stories of two separate policemen both lamenting the loss of their romantic relationships; a slice-of-life piece instilled with all the melancholy, joy, frivolity and promise that comes with it.
First and foremost, a disclaimer- Chungking Express is my all-time favourite film and all bias is strictly intended. Though Chungking was screened during my Introduction to Film module lecture early in Year 1, I felt indifferent about it until revisiting it again later on in the year, having a new appreciation of film in general. During my second viewing, I felt nauseated with an innate sense of happiness. I realised the heart and soul of its two tales, which spoke to me about love as an entity similar to film itself- it doesn’t have to make complete sense. Chungking Express was clearly written not to teach noble lessons about love, but to express the irrationality that comes with it, the stupidity of holding on to what has already moved on.
The characters that breathe life into the film are much more than relatable- they are human. Their personalities vary on a huge spectrum, from Cop 223’s playboy nature to Cop 663’s serious attitude, from Brigitte Lin’s enigmatic aura to Faye Wong’s carefree outlook. The characters feel so alive that they don’t seem to be written into the film- it feels like Wong Kar-Wai is simply documenting them, showing us glimpses into the lives of very real people living in our world. Those familiar with Wong Kar-Wai’s filmography, which includes Days of Being Wild (1990) and In The Mood for Love (2000), understand that his writing is more concerned with the essence of a story rather than with the story itself. His heavily stylised cinematography and editing choices are able to tell so much of the story without the need for a single line of dialogue to deliver exposition. Because of this, every sentence that comes out of each characters’ mouths carries even deeper meanings and emotional weight. Screenwriters of today, whether amateur or professional, would be daft not to pay attention to how Wong Kar-Wai writes dialogue and intimate situations.
Chungking Express frames Hong Kong night life realistically but stylistically, capturing every facet of the world Wong sought to illustrate. Each shot felt natural and unstaged to the extent that the sections of Chungking Mansions felt like characters on their own. The film is shot at organic locations, developing in me a sense of nostalgia even for the unfamiliar and foreign. I didn’t expect DP Christopher Doyle to make me homesick for a city I’ve never lived in.
I can’t speak enough for how Chungking Express is the epitome of authenticity in an era where films are being soullessly manufactured and factory-packed every day for the masses. My wish to anyone preparing to watch it, is not to be puzzled- rather, try to be challenged by it. See what Chungking has to offer you. Even if you dislike it your first time round, come back again later. Maybe your taste will change. As implied by the film, a person may like pineapple today and something else tomorrow, who knows?