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Original Title:
Chung Hing sam lam

Hong Kong 1994

Romance, Drama, Comedy

Wong Kar-Wai

Tony Leung Chiu Wai
Faye Wong
Takeshi Kaneshiro
Brigitte Lin
Valerie Chow
Chen Jinquan
Huang Zhiming
Kwan Lee-na
Zhen Liang
Zuo Songshen

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Chungking Express

Story: Cop 223 (Takeshi Kaneshiro) has been dumped by his girlfriend. However, he can't accept this truth and therefore decides to wait for her to return until his 25th birthday. But even on that day there is no single word of her. Cop 223 tries to drown his broken heart in alcohol at a bar. He is determined to talk to the first woman that enters the room. This woman is no one else than a drug trafficker (Brigitte Lin), who actually has her own share of problems as she was ripped of her goods. Even though cop 223 and the woman have almost nothing in common, they share the same sorrow and don't need to exchange lots of words to express them.
Faye (Faye Wong) works at a food stall and secretly falls in love with Cop 663 (Tony Leung). This man, on the other hand, was just dumped by his girlfriend and struggles with lovesickness. Faye, however, is incapable of expressing her feelings with words, and so her love almost becomes an obsession when she regularly visits the flat of the policeman to clean it and tidy up. In a very unique way Faye and the policeman start to get closer...

Review: Wong Kar-Wai is one of the few Chinese directors out there, whose name is also well-known in western countries. This is mainly the effort of his work "Chungking Express". Yet, even before that he could draw attention to himself in his home country with movies like "As Tears go by" und "Days of being Wild". But only his third work managed to have true international success. And deservedly so - that's beyond question - but the film doesn't fall into the category of a masterpiece, even if many critics want to see it there. The reason for that is simple. Wong Kar-Wai doesn't yet show the sense for profound dramas or emotionally involving moments. "Chungking Express" is a lot more lighthearted than you might expect, and even though the director touches topics like disappointed or unrequited love with a necessary meaningful approach to give the film something extraordinary, the film still somehow lacks a bit of a strong message. Which, however, doesn't mean that "Chungking Express" isn't an honest and heart-warming romance. On the contrary, Wong Kar-Wai creates a romantic film of high value and some art interspersed.

What catches ones eye on every occasion is Wong's striving of creating a certain feeling with his pictures, colours, fast impressions, music and filming locations. In the first chasing scene, which stands out because of its blurry pictures, we already realize that the director with the helping hand of camera- and cinematography-pro Christopher Doyle ("Hero", "In the Mood for Love") wants to create impressions that capture the way of living in his home town Hong Kong as accurate as possible. We get to see people of different nationalities, which also is reflected in the music, and we even believe to be able to smell the different scents of this world full of life. Here, it becomes apparent that Wong Kar-Wai's movie is in some way art-house, but in a fashion that is easily compatible with the cinematic new-wave of the 90s and new pop culture. Wong also often uses little tricks like fast- and slow-motion, whereas the scenes in which cop 663 moves in slow-mo, while everything around him is taking place in fast-motion, can really stick to you. Wong always manages to bring the life of this town always-in-motion to the screen in an outstanding way.

A little bit unusual is the seperation of the film into two parts. Director Wong doesn't aim at joining the two pieces to a whole, but instead he merely lets them overlap each other a little bit by common themes of unrequited love and the fact that both main protagonists are policemen. That's actually sad, since you can't fight the feeling that the director missed the opportunity to make out more of it. Luckily, Wong Kar-Wai pulls of the difficult task never to make the two stories feel seperated. But to join them, most likely, would have given the film more weight. On the condition, that you do it right and bestow a non-artificial dramatic coloration upon the film, naturally. But drama is something you will look for in vain, anyway. The movie proves to be unexpectedly positive, even though you can't see much of that at the beginning. Anyway, both stories can in fact stand out with a promising and life-affirming undertone. Nervertheless, somehow I expected something different and so this matter is a small disappointment.

The first story is shorter than the second, and thus we also get the impression that the characters are drawn a little bit too shallow in this one. Takeshi Kaneshiro ("House of Flying Daggers", "Returner") can give his character a certain infantil naivity, and yet or maybe just because of that convinces as a cop left by love, who can't let his girlfriend go. Brigitte Lin ("Ashes of Time", "New Dragon Gate Inn"), on the other hand, can only give little rough edges to her character, as she does only got a raw deal on paper, too.
Fortunately, it's different when it comes to Tony Leung ("Infernal Affairs", "Hero") and Faye Wong ("Chinese Odyssey 2002"). Leung plays a cop, who always talks with his household equipment and seeks advice from them. These moments of "wackiness" are to be found quite often and represent most part of the humor, e.g. when Leung asks his soap why it has lost so much weight. Yet, at the same time, these scenes also have something metaphor-like to them, depicting cop 663's lovesickness and the pain of unrequited love.

Throughout the film, the different characters also work as narrators, which eventually gives the film more profoundness, too. However, there are some actions of the characters that you have to raise an eyebrow over. Leung's character believes that his flat reflects his inner frame of mind and therefore doesn't wonder at the beginning why the arrangement of his furniture changes. And Faye more or less is becoming a stalker, trying to win the policeman's attention in her own unique way. Yet, when the cop's feelings for Faye actually start to grow, Faye suddenly builds up some disance. Surely, Wong Kar-Wai wants to depict that love can be very fleeting, without wanting to deprive it of any of its magic, yet at the end he seems to go for a compromise. For some viewers this means that they don't get to see what they may have been looking for, others, however, will take pleasure in the warm, fuzzy feeling the movie presents us with at the end.
Faye Wong is the actual star of "Chungking Express" and her multilayered character and her performance adds a lot to the movie's quality. Wong Kar-Wai doesn't dive as deep into the themes of his work as we might have hoped for, yet can score with a charming story and an unusually high amount of humor. Despite some little disappointment this still remains a movie, that is worth all the words of praise and should be part of any DVD-Collection.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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