Director Wong Kar-Wai’s third feature length film, Chungking Express, was actually made with the idea of providing a light, contemporary diversion whilst he was finishing the seemingly heavier Ashes of Time. It’s an eccentric, emotive and visually gorgeous film, and Kar-Wai’s poetic and offbeat script beautifully complements cinematographer Christopher Doyle’s expressive aesthetic.
Chungking Express is a tale of two lovelorn police officers working separately through recent break-ups. The methods through which the men deal with the demise of love are odd yet poignantly fathomable. Cop 223 (played by Takeshi Kaneshiro) gorges himself on tins of expired pineapple, the cans’ best before dates representing the ending of his relationship. And 223 also takes up running in order that all the water evaporate from his body so there will be none left for tears. Tony Leung’s character, Cop 663, talks to the objects around his apartment: the dishcloth, his bar of soap, a teddy bear, imbuing them with his own lonely emotion and at times attempting to buoy them and himself up. To his chunky bar of soap he advises: ‘you mustn’t let yourself go. You’ve gained weight so fast. She may have gone but life goes on… Stop indulging’.
The post-break women with whom 223 and 663 become entwined – an anonymous heroin dealer (Brigitte Lin) and snack-bar worker Faye ([played by Chinese popstar and actress, Faye Wong) – are refreshingly perplexing and unconventional female leads. Don’t expect any chick-flick-style happily-ever-after endings; the interactions that ensue between the characters steer clear of any traditional romantic trajectories.
Setting and sound are as important as character and plot in Kar-Wai’s films and Chungking Express is no exception. Set in the insalubrious streets of Hong Kong’s Kowloon district, the area we’re shown is a wonderfully seedy melting-pot of humanity. Home to the Chungking Mansions apartment block – from which the film takes its title – 663’s apartment was actually Christopher Doyle’s own home at the time of filming. Faye Wong’s sublime cover (sung in Mandarin) of The Cranberries’ ‘Dreams’ echoes throughout the film, as does The Mamas & The Papas’ ‘California Dreaming’. Kar-Wai once again curates a wonderfully stirring and serendipitous soundtrack.
Chungking Express deservedly won numerous Hong Kong Film Awards and is widely considered the director’s breakthrough feature – In the Mood for Love and 2046 were to follow. And almost fifteen years on, Chungking Express is every bit as captivating.