For this week’s, as well as next week’s Friday feature I’ll be writing exceptionally on Maisa’s behalf—afterwards we will continue writing every other week, as usual!
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Chungking Express (Chung Hing sam lam), directed by Wong Kar Wai (1994), follows the lives of two unnamed policemen, (referred throughout the film as cop 223 ad 663) divided into two separate storylines. Though they share many plot elements, for instance the take-away place called Midnight Express, (where a lot of the action takes place) two chance encounters and the fact that they are both policemen, they are also differ from each other in many ways.
In the first story, cop 223 (Takeshi Kaneshiro) is seen at the payphone, trying to reach his girlfriend May; since she announced the end of their relationship on April the 1st, he has decided to wait for a month for the reality to sink in:
Cop 223: We split up on April Fool’s Day. So I decided to let the joke run for a month. Every day I buy a can of pineapple with a sell-by date of May 1. May loves pineapple, and May 1 is my birthday. If May hasn’t changed her mind by the time I’ve bought thirty cans, then our love will also expire.
The following story involves cop 663 (Tony Leung), also facing heartbreak—the woman he loved has decided to try something new. Perhaps through the metaphorical way in which they confront their sorrows, melodrama is evaded; yet this poetic approach works really well, and sets the tone of the film.
As the backdrop to the personal lives of the cops is Chungking Mansions, (which the title of the film refers to, in addition to the food stall, Midnight Express) a melting pot of different ethnic groups, depicting the underworld of Hong Kong, which Wong has said he finds intriguing:
It is a legendary place where the relations between the people are very complicated. It has always fascinated and intrigued me. It is also a permanent hotspot for the cops in HK because of the illegal traffic that takes place there. That mass-populated and hyperactive place is a great metaphor for the town herself.
Amazingly, this film was completed in only two months; Wong Kar Wai filmed and edited it all in the midst of a larger project of his, Ashes of Time. In a way, the cinematography also reflects this in it’s impressionistic, vibrantly visual style. Despite the restrictive time frame, Chunking Express does not lack depth or subtlety; the freedom Wong must have felt in starting afresh in the middle of a drawn-out phase of another project has no doubt contributed to the intuitive feel and whimsical elements of the film.