As the film world gears up for the release of Wong Kar-Wai’s long-awaited 2046, it’s a propitious time for his masterpiece, Chungking Express, to be reissued. When the Hong Kong movie first arrived in the West in 1996, it came with the lavish cheerleading of Quentin Tarantino. But while Wong shares a certain kinetic playfulness with QT, Chungking Express is a much more poetic, romantic film than the connection might suggest.
Wong nimbly tells the stories of two policemen whose girlfriends have just left them. One (Takeshi Kaneshiro) counts the days that have passed by buying tins of pineapple, until he falls for a gloomy drug dealer (Brigitte Lin) styled, emblematically, as a ’40s femme fatale. The second (Tony Leung) compensates for his loss by talking to the household objects?bars of
soap, chiefly?rendered inconsolable by his girlfriend’s departure. His object d’amour is a gamine waitress obsessed with “California Dreamin'” (Faye Wong), who insinuates herself by breaking into his apartment and subtly messing with his belongings.
Slight, oblique plots, then. But the spirit of the film is what carries it, expressed in Christopher Doyle’s graceful hand-held camerawork, the engaging performances and, most of all, Wong’s endearingly whimsical take on urban alienation.
Hong Kong’s crowds are a permanent blurred presence, with individuals impossible to make out. But Wong’s gift is to cut through the throng and find brief, touching stories of people who combat loneliness by cultivating precious eccentricities and dreams of escape.
A hip and quirky movie, perhaps, but one that’s gently profound, too.