Thursday, 26 June 2014

Brief Review of "Chungking Express" (1994)

Chungking Express is a wacky romance film in two parts. Both set in the same area of Hong Kong, director Wong Kar-wai tells two similar stories of characters between relationships. In the first, a policeman who is struggling to forget his previous sweetheart, May, goes out to find any distraction he can. As fate has it, he meets and develops a seemingly platonic relationship with a surreptitious drug smuggler. The idea of a policeman and a drug smuggler unknowingly developing a relationship is striking, and speaks to the film’s ideas on the city environment: a place where so many people’s lives bump into each other so randomly and frequently that anything is possible.

The second story follows another policeman in grief after being abandoned by his girlfriend. This officer attracts the attentions of Faye, who works at a snack bar, and the story follows the development of their unclear relationship. Every character in the film is quirky (in a rather realistic way), but Faye is particularly wild. Often dancing carelessly to her favourite song, “California Dreamin” by The Mamas & the Papas, she continuously sneaks into the policeman’s home to tidy and move things around. This could be seen as a gracious or loving act, but it’s also creepy. Most relationships depicted in the film have some kind of bizarre or slightly twisted feel to them.

Filmmaking techniques are used to vividly portray a bustling Hong Kong. Jump cuts keep events lively and musical montages are engagingly wacky. Shaking handheld camerawork is key to the sprawl; our viewpoint swirls around in a constantly-creative fashion, sending us into claustrophobic shops and smoothly following playful characters - notably the child-like Faye. Another regular film effect is that of time manipulation. In several scenes our main character is quite still while crowds bustle past behind them in fast motion. This has an isolative effect, making us appreciate the fact that we are seeing one man’s troubles in an ocean of millions.

Chungking Express provides an original and non-cliche commentary on romantic relationships. Refreshingly, however, it forces no opinions or ideas upon the viewer. The two stories are simply told and are told simply, leaving us to extract our personal meaning from the strange swirl of heartbreak and hope.