Thursday, January 29, 2009

Chungking Express

Watching films can be a sort of trigger for time travel through memories. If enough time goes by from a viewing, the memories of previous relationships can come flooding back to you. I first saw Chungking Express in 1996 when Lola, an ex, introduced me to it. I remember her sitting me down in her apartment early in our relationship and saying it was something I needed to see. It meant a lot to Lola so I watched it and embraced it too, along with the work of director Wong Kar Wai. Lola's gone but I've been a fan of his ever since.

Chungking Express is actually two stories. The first, and the least interesting to me, concerns a pining for a lost lover cop and a criminal in a blonde wig. The pair barely miss one another before meeting in a bar and spending a strange night together. This part of the film is a feast of frenetic camera movement, kalaidascopes of color and the typical Wong Kar Wai lack of cohesiveness. It's just pure nuance and atmosphere and enjoyment is more certain if you just roll with it, let Wong take you into his Hong Kong and don't worry about it.

The second story is the one that I really love in Chungking Express. Another cop with a departed lover stops every night at a food stand. A quirky girl who likes The Mamas and the Papas (Faye Wong!) who works there takes a shine to him and even though she's too shy to approach him directly, she's not too timid to get a key and sneak into his apartment when he's not there. She likes to just hang out there, clean it and leave little hints that someone was there without being too obvious. The pair begin a slow dance of courtship and it's sweet and romantic. The visual style of second story is different--it's slower (literally; there are a couple of mind blowing, trademark Wong Kar Wai slow motions that are unbelievably beautiful) and more direct than the first part is.

I really like Chungking Express. It's a toss up between this and In the Mood for Love for my favorite Wong Kar Wai film. Chungking Express is typical Wong Kar Wai with stunning visuals, a meandering story and full of overt romanticism of the Hong Kong night wrapped in neon as people wander the streets, alone, dreaming of finding a connection. Seeing this twelve years after I last saw it makes the past come rushing back. Shades of time travel, Lola, what I lost, what I did, where I lived, sticking sharpened memories into my heart.

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