Tuesday, February 14, 2012


Only Wong Kar Wai could open my mind up to the world of romance, sensuality and sensitivity in film. Before discovering his work, almost anything centered around romance was corny and/or stupid to me. Its no mystery that the LARGE majority of films centered around romance are geared towards women, but sometimes its nice to show a non-misogynistic male point of view on the subject every once in a while...which is what Wong Kar Wai does. Had it not been for his work, I wouldn't have been able to fully understand the work of his contemporaries like Apichatpong Weerasethakul (another male director who explores the world of romance, sensitivity and sensuality among men), Francois Ozon, Lynne Ramsay and yes...Claire Denis (in fact I used a quote from Wong Kar Wai at the beginning of my "Cinema Of Claire Denis" blog entry). The story of how 'Chungking Express' came about is pretty cool. For those of you who don't know, Wong Kar Wai was in the middle of editing his martial arts epic; 'Ashes Of Time' (another film you all should check out), and got so stressed and tired of the whole process that he took a 2 month break from working on 'Ashes Of Time' to make something more personal on a smaller scale. Furthermore, he made the film in only three weeks, didn't have a full script (which is apparently a common thing for him), yet still managed to shoot it in sequential order. Whats even funnier is that only until recently did this smaller film ('Chungking Express') manage to have more staying power than the bigger epic film that he was taking a break from ('Ashes Of Time').

After the very heavy stuff, heavily emphasized in Ashes of Time, I wanted to make a very light, contemporary movie, but where the characters had the same problems - Wong Kar Wai

'Chungking Express' also managed to become somewhat of a crossover hit in the U.S. (on the indie scene). It was one of the many indie films of the 90's that somehow managed to have Quentin Tarnatino's name associated with it. As some of you may know, I've had serious problems with Tarnatino in recent years from his highly disappointing 'Inglorious Basterds' to his next project which just sounds like "Pulp Slavery" to me. I mean, I've always thought he was a (racially) confused spazz, but its been getting worse over the years. When you have Tarantino's name attached to your project (even if he had NOTHING at all to do with it artistically) its kind of a double edged sword. On one hand, you have the most influential director of the last 20 years (this may be painful for some of you to hear, myself included, but its true) co-signing your film which means that people will obviously go see it. Plus its also nice to know that no matter how big someone gets, they never forget their indie roots and aren't afraid to stand by a small film.

Then on the other hand you get this...

That's right. All your hard work is essentially given credit to someone who didn't even direct, write or produce it and it gets billed as "Quentin Tarantino's". I really hate when films are billed incorrectly. As a former videostore employee I cant tell you how many debates & arguments I've had with people on whether or not Quentin Tarantino directed 'Hero', 'Desperado', 'From Dusk Til Dawn', 'Killing Zoe' and even 'Oldboy' (HE FUCKING DIDN'T, btw). But say what you will, Tarantino is still quite the movie buff and he knows good movies. Him putting his name on 'Chungking Express' (even though Wong Kar Wai directed it) is proof of that...
'Chungking Express' is made up of two separate stories told from the perspective of two different police officers (one detective, one beat cop) in Hong Kong who both just recently broke up with their girlfriends, but are hanging on to the possibility that their loved ones will come back to them. Eventually, a new woman comes in to each of their lives and they slowly start to move on. If you ever wanted an example of a "jazzy" film, it would definitely be this. The free form cinematography, lingering shots, sensual body language (especially from the women in the first story) and haunting voice-over narration all drive the jazziness of the film home. Its hard to categorize this (which is a good thing). Its not a comedy yet there's plenty of light hearted quirkiness and silly moments. Its also not a drama, yet there is a subplot involving criminal activity and someone does get murdered in the middle of the film. And instead of having both plots heavily intertwine with one another (like almost every single ensemble indie film did in the 90's), there's only one extremely brief scene in which 2 primary characters from both stories cross paths. Other than that, Wong Kar Wai connects both stories together through similar characters, scenes and themes (both protagonists are cops, they both recently broke up with their girlfriends, they both hang on to the past, both stories feature female love interests dressed in disguised and Wong Kar Wai even throws in similar shots from one story to the next)...

In the first story, we follow a police detective
who falls in love with a femme fatal/drug
trafficker who takes on the disguise of
Gena Rowlands from 'Gloria'. He has no
idea she's a wanted criminal. 

The second is about a beat cop who broke
up w/ his flight attendant girlfriend and is
essentially being stalked by a curious food
stand worker. In the end she dresses up like
a  flight attendant to humor him.

Wong Kar Wai throws in almost identical shots in both stories to make things more cohesive. Below we see two shots from the same film where are our main lovebirds from both stories fall asleep together in a very similar position...

story #1

story #2

And in this single freeze framed image below (this moment is captured as a freeze frame in the film) we see the only time our main characters from both stories cross paths with one another. To me, this was a pretty radical statement made by the director. Instead of doing what every director was doing at that time (connecting and intertwining everything), he did pretty much the opposite.

Whether or not Wong Kar Wai completely knew what he was doing, the outcome was very clever. Instead of making male protagonists that were either complete sensitive pussies or complete masculine manly men assholes, he took a little from both types and disguised them in the form of a cool police officer so that men wouldn't feel insecure or silly about relating to a male who was in touch with his feelings. Kind of a silly tactic but hey, sometimes its tough for guys to be sensitive or relate to a sensitive character. Thanks to the criterion collection we finally have a much better version of this film (without Tarantino's grill on the cover). If you wanna lay low for Valentines Day and just stay in or if you're looking for a film to watch w/ a girlfriend then I highly recommend this.


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