WKW: 重庆森林 Chungking Express (1994)

CKex

Exceptional arthouse brilliance, with a fantastically original approach on storytelling and cinematography direction. Dabbed with emotional grip not in the most obvious of ways, but in passing and fleeting moments shared between characters. There is no specific genre, no concrete story, but the theme lingers, the message is felt, maybe not right off the bat but after moments of living and breathing moments with individual characters, via their thoughts and monologues, through their seemingly mundane lives. Addressing love and heartbreak in unique ways that I could never imagine, confusing at times but groundbreaking-ly original considering the time it was released (a freaking 20 year old film!). The narrations of the individual characters are of one of the loveliest elements of the film, ranging from genuine honest emotional revelations to opinions which matter and make sense. Wong Kar Wai‘s brilliant, the beauty in the lines, you can only feel from seeing the characters move through life with their own perceptions on desperation, frustration and love. He meshes and blends those so well with his sometimes awkward transitions of sequences, and yet there is no sense of disjointedness at all. The flow seems just right.

The minute I finished watching I sat in silence, in awe, happy, satisfied and immediately went back to replay scenes over and over again.  I was kinda speechless too o__0 because words were jumbled I had no right ones to match. Did I really watch a 20 year old film? Really?! The crap that we have nowadays, even films that try hard to break ground with something different, they just can’t cut it.

WKW is definitely a film-maker in his own league. I now know why In The Mood For Love failed to pique my interest back then (I even thought it was boring, to my chinggus’ dismay!), I didn’t understand, I was young and I only had time for commercial stuff, mainstreams stuff that pandered to the interest and trends of the masses. I know if I’d watched Chungking Express years earlier, I’d immediately cross it off as a movie that tried so hard to be something different. But I guess age and growing up do come with benefits, things that you cannot understand or fail to see before, you’re able to appreciate right now.

This is my second full film of WKW after his also incredibly lovely As Tears Go by (1988), and I can safely say, I’m fully on board his ship. Queer eccentric or different or whatever you may call him, I think his austere writing and directing style is something worth exploring and understanding.  I can only thank 2 of my ardent WKWfan chinggus *you know who you are* for encouraging me to give him a chance, a try from the very beginning.

NO REGRETS WHATSOEVER!

Last, the ending scene of the film which I have repeated countless times! Romantic, funny, heartfelt and full of impact. Not the typical grandiose ending of a typical love story, just simple reunion scene between 2 people. Maybe it’s Tony Leung, maybe because his gaze can melt ice-cream, this is a scene I forever wanna keep and repeat! <3333

credits: youtube

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18 thoughts on “WKW: 重庆森林 Chungking Express (1994)”

  1. OMGosh. Now I NEED a rewatch.
    This a wonderful, evocative review which captured the inexplicable magic and charm of Chungking Express. And that scene is one of my all-time film moments. xD
    — Cranberries’ Dreams and this film and its wonderful cast has a very special, special place in my heart. ❤

    1. Thanks chinggu, for the recommendation and also for the kind words. The magic of this film really lingers, till now I keep thinking about scenes and words said by the characters, how they actually link up together at the very end, how they piece up into moments that matter. They encapsulate human fragility and loneliness so beautifully. Honest and bitter, but realistic too if I may say.

      I can say the 2nd story appealed to me more than the first (because the 2 main chars interacted more), but what really struck me in the 1st was Takeshi’s monologues, about love having an expiry date and how he’d never want his brief moment with Briggite Lin’s to ever expire or go out of date. Such wonderfully crafted sequences, just to show how his char yearned to escape loneliness, how he wanted someone to remember. I didn’t cry nor did I go awww swoony, but it did resonate perfectly well with me, I’m not just a nobody, at least someone cares.

      1. Chingu-ya, Takeshi Kaneshiro was a darling in this! ^^ But I agree, Faye and Tony stole the show.
        TK got to continue his character in the unspoken sequel to CE, Fallen Angels but as me and Mookie both concurred, it was a disappointment, relatively speaking, but I’ll add this; you could watch only to extract TK’s scenes from it because he was just golden.

        Can’t wait to hear your thoughts on the trilogy that is Days of Being Wild/In The Mood For Love/2046. The three films couldn’t be any more distinct in tone, style, storytelling approach — which is probably why each of them also work so well as standalone pieces, but truly you MUST watch all three, in that order. Hehe!

      2. I’m on a streak now, just got Ashes of Time done, will do Fallen Angels next. And after that, the trilogy! Will share if I still have words to by then hehehe..

  2. Yesssss! I need a rewatch too and my gosh I rewatched that ending scene sooo many times I can tell the exact moment when camera will cast on TL and he would be killing Faye with his eyes and I have severe case of second hand blushing and hyperventilation and my gut is telling me Faye needed those WKW patented shades at nite just to get through the scene without too much panting or fainting. Haha and every time without fail I’m half dissing TL to not look at the poor girl like that throughout the scene for fear of her tachying.

    And what WKW can do so uniquely well is capsulized and stylized a human moment, a snippet of time so intensely genuine and intimate…what evoked in us transcending time.

    1. OMG I had second blushing and swooning just like you! <333 I admit I didn't just repeatedly watch it for the beauty in itself, but for TL's electrifying gaze. And the last words he said to her, OMGosh I was electrified charmed, died and went to heaven. He said it in such a matter of fact way and yet I'm amazed how genuinely sexy it felt.

      And you couldn't have said it any better, an intimate moment captured so stylishly by the director. I'm actually more blown away that he actually wrote everything, the lines dialogues, so straightforward and yet encompass so much. Loveeeeeely!

  3. Now I’m curious and want to watch this film. You have a unique way of presenting your thoughts that let the readers share your viewing experience without having watch it yet. Does it make sense? Either case, I thorough enjoyed reading this review. I’ve only started watching Kdramas in the last few years and have seen to completion only a few. And I only watched a handful of Cdramas, mostly very old TVB dramas on DVDs. A few years back a relative let me borrow an old TVB drama called the Rough Ride, only because Barbara Yung was in it, and we were fans of her from watching the old 1982 Legend of Condor Heroes. Anyway, so after I read your reviews I wasn’t going to post because I don’t know any thing about this film to make a meaningful comment. But then, you wrote “Maybe it’s Tony Leung, maybe because his gaze can melt ice-cream…” I smiled and immediately thought of the Rough Ride, which was in 1984, so even then, 10 years prior to the Chunking Express, I thought young Tony was already ‘killing women softly with his eyes.” The Rough Ride was the only drama I watched of Tony Leung, and I was hooked. Oh, and I watched the 40 episodes without subs, relying on the various online reviews; ILICDD was the second drama that I watched without subs. Anyway, the ending of CE was very interesting; it gave away nothing of the plot for new viewers like me, and made me more curious to watch it. Thanks for the post, and a trip back drama lane.

    1. Ahhh, you are too nice. I sometimes get too jumbled up in my own words I have no idea what I what or how to express how I feel (the more with this film because it’s not your typical one) LOL but thanks a lot, I’m happy that ppl like the reviews I do and spur them to watch 🙂

      I’m excited that your curiosity is piqued, have you ever seen a WKW film? This is my 2nd so I can’t recommend in the true sense but if you like arthouse or something different but relevant, not just then but also now, I think you will be able to appreciate it. It’s such an old film that I didn’t think anyone would be able to join me in my spazzing, if you do end up watching, please drop my with your thoughts too. I think it’s on youtube with subs, and can be downloaded anywhere.

      TVB oh TVB the old ones were so good, though I can only say I’d been exposed the furthest, to only as early as the mid 90s? Didn’t even get my chance on a young Tony Leung arrhhh.

      1. I have not watched any WKW film, but now your posts and the discussions with Ennui made me want to find out more about WKW, the director, and his influence in Korea. Now I am curious if Tony Leung got his international fame from WKW’s films. When I watched The Rough Ride in 2009, a family’s friend from Hong Kong told us that Tony was part of the 5 Tigers of TVB, along with Barbara Yung, these young actors and actress dominated Hong Kong entertainment scenes in the early 80’s. Of the five tigers it seems that only Andy Lau and Tony Leung survived the. uh.. Rough Ride,

      2. Yay, let me know when you start watching, we can spazz together! ^^ And ennui, please educate us lol

        Yeap, TL and AL were part of the 5 tigers along with Kent Tong, Michael Miu and Felix Wong. I’m not very sure about Kent, but I think Michael and Felix did considerably well in TVB for some years (they’re still pretty known now). It’s just that TL and AL decided to venture into film, and never really did look back after that. But if you’re talking about success and overall achievement, they both do take the cake.

  4. Ripgal:

    You just watched the film now? OMG. I watched this film probably 50 times since year 1994 or 1995….when I was back in university. It was a big hit and it also speaks a lot of pre-1997 anxiety of Hong Kong, the “ennui” of urban life as Murakami Haruki described in his novel, “Norwegian Woods,” which this film paid tribute to in its Chinese title.(That’s why I started to use ennui, the French word for boredom, as my nickname. LOL). I also taught this film in American universities for the past ten years and it’s always the favorite among students. This film also defines WKW’s cult status in Korea since you are into Korean popular culture. There are many Korean films and dramas that try to imitate CE, but to no avail. This is also Tarantino’s favorite and this film is also the book cover for MANY MANY academic publishings on films and HK.

    You also can check out “Ashes of Time” and “Fallen Angel,” the two films WKW made before and after Chungking Express. But WKW’s ultimate achievement is really “Days of Being Wild” and that’s why Leslie Cheung remains a legend in Korea. However, I have to say, I just watched The Grandmasters when I visited Taiwan two weeks ago. It just blew me away. For this first time I fell in love with Zhang Ziyi. Also, The Grandmasters really puts Life of Pi to shame. (No offense–I know you like Life of Pi, but for me, it’s the biggest disappointment in 2012).

    I am glad that you love Chungking Express! This film really speaks the sentiment of a generation. I always loved Tony Leung from the early 1980s, but it was also from Chungking Express that I realized he was more capable than I had imagined him to be. This is WKW’s magic–he could make Maggie Cheung transform into one of the greatest actresses in film history and he is doing for Zhang Ziyi again.

    Cheers!
    Happy Chinese New year~

    1. Wooow, you teach film? Or just basically ideas from the film itself? I’d like to hear more about your thoughts and analysis about the film because I reckon I might not have gotten everything off the first watch, think I will be watching this a few more times in future.

      I never knew WKW’s that famous in Korea, and I also can’t recall any films I’ve seen that actually had the same feel or style (can you point out some? which failed?). I just feel that WKW’s storytelling doesn’t limit strictly to story or character or even just style, like a lot of movies with a particular element standing out. CE gives me a feeling that’s a lil bit about everything but yet each element packs punches.

      I’ve downloaded Ashes of Time, and when I look at the cast list; OMG, all great stars of today! Was kinda curious about his choices of actors in the beginning, because all of them seem to have been or are still really big and popular stars whom apart from TL I didn’t consider to be amazing actors at all. You know some directors tend to choose relatively unknown stars so as not to undermine the overall quality of their works? But WKW’s casting choices – all WHOA! It’s either he’s just a damn genius for being able to tap into the potential in even the weakest of actors, or he’s just a special one.

      1. Happy Snake Year!Ripgal, sorry that I am extremely busy since the school already began in the States. Yes. I teach films and literature. Korean drama is my guilty pleasure and I try to convince myself that I am “studying” popular culture. LOL.

        When I argue that WKW or HK cinema in general has a tremendous influence on Korean films, first of all, I am more talking about Korean “mainstream” cinema. I will not use HK cinema as a reference point when it comes to masters like Kim Ki-duk, Lee Chang-dong, or Hong San-soo although admittedly, Hong’s works have the trademark of French New Wave. Secondly, I am not necessarily saying that HK cinema is better and Korean films are at their best derivatives. Ultimately, in our postmodern age, authenticity is a myth. However, it is undeniable that HK cinema from the late 1980s has made its inroad into Korea. For instance, in RM’s Hong Kong episodes, Yoo Jae Seok could even sing Leslie Cheung’s song from A Better Tomorrow. Song Hye Kyo wanted so much to appear in WKW’s films and she was willing to spend years in Hong Kong for WKW interminably prolonged project. (But unfortunately, she was completely wasted in The Grandmasters. If you don’t speak any Chinese languages, there is no way that you can play a substantial role in WKW’s HK films. Language is a key for WKW to portray the colonial and migration history of Hong Kong. Takeshi Taneshiro has his career “best” (hm..we all know how good an actor he is…LOL. But I still adore his geeky/otaku personality!!) when he plays in WKW’s films because his “hybrid” ethnicity embodies the very cultural of Hong Kong). And the chair of the Korean department at my school always wondered why I even bothered to watch Korean dramas since for her, Tony Leung and WKW are the best!
        Anyway. The gangster films definitely have a big appeal for Koreans. For instance, “Brother,” the film that redefines Jang Dong-gun’s career shares many key themes as “A Better Tomorrow.” Critics have pointed out similarities between April Snow and “In the Mood for Love.” This is not to discount the validity and virtue of Korean films. But it is an important phenomenon to note in an age of globalization where media contents and cultures get translated into another. And since we are talking about Chungking Express, this is a film totally about globalization since HK is arguably one of the biggest global cities in East Asia: drug trafficking, migration of labor, Del Monte pineapple canes.

        But for me, WKW’s works are mostly about time. Chungking Express is visually stunning but the cinematography created by Christopher Doyle, an Australian who speaks impeccable Cantonese and has been living in Hong Kong for the longest time, is more than an exercise in style. Remember when Tony Leung comes to Midnight Express (the food stand) and Faye intends to give him the envelope? The camera uses a slow motion to portray the contemplative moment as TL sips his coffee, while the rest of the movements inside the same frame are being fast forwarded. The juxtaposition of these two different temporalities speaks the predicament not only for the characters in the film, but for Hong Kong people right before the 1997 handover. There is a sense of nostalgia (the music chosen in this film is all from the 60s and 70s!) while the pressure of the present is real. The expiration date on the pineapple cane is also a metaphor for Hong Kong’s expiration date with the British.

        With regard to actors and actresses, it is WKW who transform these actors and actresses at first. Tony Leung has been the LOVE of my life since age 10 when he started playing in TVB dramas. However, before WKW, he “acted” well. After WKW, especially after Chungking Express, he is no longer “acting” but “living” and “breathing” as an ordinary person around us. I highly recommend that you see the last 10 minutes of “Days of Being Wild” where Tony appears. According to Tony, this is his best acting in his entire career, where nothing happens in this scene. Maggie Chung was considered to be a beautiful but perfunctory actress before “As Tears Go By.” But she was a different person in that film, as we see how she blossoms in Stanley Kwan’s “Centre Stage.” She even openly acknowledges how WKW has completely changed her career. And her performance in “In the Mood for Love” is just masterful beyond words.
        Sorry for my long and messy response. We can talk more about WKW! I am happy that you are enjoying this WKW binge!!

  5. Just in case you don’t know, Chungking Express has just been voted as the BEST EVER HONG KONG MOVIE at LoveHKfilm.com ahead of Internal Affairs, A Better Tomorrow and In the Mood of Love. As the commenter there said, one would not venture to say that Chungking Express is more accomplished than In the Mood of Love – but it tops the list because of the “pure, unconditional love from its fans”.

    See more at http://www.lovehkfilm.com/blog/damnyoukozo/2013/01/10/the-best-hong-kong-films-ever-number-2-and-number-1/#comment-142578

    1. Wow thanks, I’m going thru the rest of the list and I realise how outdated I am in terms of the MUST SEE classics. The list is golden, I’m going to download some of the oldies one of these days. Thanks again!

      And Chungking Express FTW! YAY!

    2. OMG! Kozo! He’s still aliiiive!
      And yes, I’ve watched a LOT of those over the years, especially the Top Ten. Hee. HK films of the 90s-00ies be THE SHIT!

    3. It’s my FAV of fav too! ^^ it is a time capsule of so many things that are now gone forever. Youth, the vibrancy, the verve of HK pre1997, a young WKW not as masterful but there is this earnest innocence in a master in making. a young TL with his own most delish miasma of lethal CHARM, the first outing of the ingenue almost alien-esque magical screen presence of Faye, a Takeshi that is so well-utilized to the point he can act….haha I can go on and on.

    4. I LOVE both Chungking Express and In the Mood for Love because obviously, they are both played by Tony!! The pairing between Maggie and Tony is too heavenly. I so wish that they are more than soul mates….(sob)

      I think it is difficult to compare CE and In the Mood for Love. Chungking Express is spontaneous and fun, while In the Mood for Love is relatively slow with its contemplation on the past. For many East Asian viewers who came of age and entered college around 1990s, Chungking Express signified rite of passage for an individual and for their societies: rapid urbanization and the advent of global media. But In the Mood for Love again continues WKW’s concern about HK history. The Shanghainese dialect, Qipao, the martial art novel writing, Singapore, and how the film ends up De Gaulle’s visit to Cambodia. It is a beautiful love story between the main characters, but also a beautiful love letter of WKW to Hong Kong.

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