1994, Starring Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Brigitte Lin
Chin-hsia, Faye Wong, Takeshe Kaneshiro
Directed by Wong Kar-wai
Chungking Express has the relentless energy and
inexplicable grace of a perfectly crafted pop song: its giddy rhythms and
infectious melodies linger long, circling around memories of forgotten lovers
and ill-fated romances, teasing at emotions you'd long ago misplaced. passions
cross, pursuits dead-end, and romances disconnect in this bright buoyantly
atypical HK art film.
CKExp was shot in Hong Kong's Chungking Mansions-an
enormous, rambling high-rise teeming with gritty Rough Guide backpacker's
hostels and filthy vindaloo joints. Its on-the-fly aesthetic (is there a single
tripod-mounted shot in the entire film?) captures the antic authenticity of HK's
bustling street life, putting its fast-forward realism in the service of a fresh
arrangement of rambunctious ideas and gorgeous images (thanks to director Wong
Kar-wai's recurrent cameraman, the brilliant Australian, Christopher Doyle).
Not that there isn't a plot. In fact, there are two.
In the film's first half, HK plainclothes cop number
223 (Takeshi Kaneshiro) spends his free time pining for his ex-girlfriend, May
who dumped him on April Fool's Day. One night, while pursuing a fleeing crook,
number 223 brushes past a woman in a blonde wig (Brigitte Lin); fifty-six hours
later, after consuming thirty cans of pineapples (May's favorite fruit) marked
"sell by May 1," the heart-wrecked cop enters a bar, vomits the pineapples, and
determines to fall in love with the next woman he sees.
Enter the woman in the blonde wig, who's just been
burned in a drug deal involving Indian smugglers and a British money man. The
two spend the night together ina hotel room: number 223 watching old movies on
television while the mysterious blonde stranger sleeps soundly on the bed. The
next morning, number 223 leaves to go jogging and, just as he abandons his
beeper (and his pining for May), he receives a "Happy Birthday" page from the
blonde-wigged woman. But he never sees her again.
Plot-half number two commences with number 223
stopping by an all-night fast food joint called Midnight Express. The owner
suggests he try dating a new counter-girl, Faye (Faye Wong). Number 223
mistakes the tall, leggy, short-haired Faye for a boy...then promptly disappears
from the movie.
Six hours later, Faye falls in love with uniformed
policeman number 663 (Tony leung), who stops by every evening to pick up a
Caesar salad for his girlfriend, an airline hostess. When the hostess takes
wing, she leaves a letter for number 663 at Midnight Express, along with his
keys. Faye intercepts the letter, learns number 663's address, and begins
visiting his apartment while he's out: rearranging things, cleaning up, falling
in love with the trappings of his life. Eventually number 663, who's prone to
romanticizing everyday objects himself, catches Faye in his flat and finally
asks her for a date. But she stands him up, then leaves HK for
One year later, Faye-now an airline hostess-returns
to find number 663 resigned from the force and running the Midnight Express. He
asks to write him a boarding pass. Destination: wherever she wants to take
It's easy to see why CKExp was chosen as the first
U.S. release from the Quentin Tarentino-managed distribution company, Rolling
Thunder. While a plot synopsis barely begins to convey the assortment of visual
riffs (mirrored images, smudgy chases, loopy body languages) and thematic
resonance, it is a film filled with possibility and energy and a sense that,
though the clock is ticking, time is forever expanding, and that- 1997
notwithstanding- the future isn't running out.
Credit: "Sex and Zen & A Bullet in the Head" by
Stefan Hammond & Mike Wilkins. This is a wonderful English guide to the
films of Hong Kong.