April 20, 2023

Chungking Express (1994)
Grade: 42/100

Director: Kar-Wai Wong
Stars: Faye Wong, Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Takeshi Kaneshiro

What it's about. A film divided into two halves, each featuring a police man whose girlfriend has broken up with him. Both cops frequent a fast food restaurant called the Chungking Express.

In the first half, the cop is Takeshi Kaneshiro. He is a young man depressed over his recent breakup. He can't get a date with anyone, despite being the cutest man in Hong Kong. He hoards cans of peaches with his birthday as the expiration, then eats all the peaches in one night.

Then he goes to a bar, and meets Brigitte Lin, a lawless femme fatale wearing Columbo's raincoat and Marilyn Monroe's wig. The cop manages to get her to go home with him, but nothing happens.

The second story is more interesting because it features Faye Wong, a hot pop singer in real life. In the movie, she is a server at the Chungking Express. Because it is a movie, she falls in love with a police man (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai) who shows up every day at the restaurant.

She obtains his apartment key through a plot contrivance, and uses it to illegally enter his apartment every day, making herself at home then leaving before the cop returns. This goes on until he catches her. He asks her out, he is stood up, she moves to California, he buys the fast food restaurant, she returns, with each plot milestone less likely and less developed than the last.

How others will see it. Director Kar-Wai Wong was already acclaimed in Hong Kong by 1994. Chungking Express was his breakthrough in the West, facilitated by distribution by Quentin Tarantino. He later achieved even greater acclaim for In the Mood for Love (2001).

At the Hong Kong Film Awards, Chungking Express won Best Film, Best Director, and Best Actor (Tony Leung Chiu-wai). The film did well elsewhere on the festival circuit. The movie has made various Greatest Films lists.

Today at imdb.com, the movie has a lofty 8.0 user rating with 86K user votes. The attraction seems to be Faye Wong, who shamelessly flirts with the camera in every scene. Tony Leung Chiu-wai attempts a Steve McQueen cool that provides at least some reason why Wong would obsess over him rather than go out with one of the myriad young men she would encounter working at the restaurant.

How I felt about it. This film was a tough sit for me. The first half had annoying camera work, especially action scenes involving Brigitte Lin. I thought the first cop was an idiot. The second cop wasn't of particular interest either, and I'd just as well he didn't smoke, or walk around in his underwear, or talk to his dish towels and stuffed animals.

Faye Wong is nice to look at, and she is undeniably sexy. Still, the movie manages to be dull most of the time. The last fifteen minutes seem very hurried. Faye Wong spontaneously decides to go to California and become an airline stewardess. But she returns to Hong Kong on the anniversary that she left, to find her would-be boyfriend cop now owns the place. I don't believe any of it.

Other than Wong's quirky persona, what is the appeal of this movie? What accounts for its success? It seems that people are looking for novelty, and found it here.

The film did remind me of California Dreamin' (2007), a much better movie in which the 1966 pop hit by The Mamas and The Papas served as a lure for a young woman in a distant country to seek to come to America.

It is a bit sad for me to watch this film, knowing that Hong Kong was, in 1994, a free country. Now it is controlled by China. Democracy is gone from there, snuffed out by authoritarians, and it can happen in your country too.