Thursday, November 8, 2012

CHUNGKING EXPRESS (Wong Kar-wai, 1994, Hong Kong)

One desperate man discovers that love is like an expired can of pineapples, too sweet and rancid, but hopes his virtuous memory never fades; another learns California Dreaming cures passion’s claustrophobic embrace. Within the crime infested Chunking district of Hong Kong, two cops attempt to find their true love, disparate men who feel the cold tomb of loneliness encasing their hearts, unable to escape, victims of their own good intentions.

Director Wong Kar-wai and cinematographer extraordinaire Christopher Doyle team up to create a visual poem, a vibrant splash of colors and shock editing to reflect love’s tempestuous and fickle nature, amid the exotic locales and chaotic street life of Chungking’s concrete jungle whose rhythmic actions pump lifeblood through celluloid veins. Wong Kar-wai splits the narrative into two sections, like the human heart separated into two pumps with each character metaphorically representing the four chambers.

A fast food stand called Midnight Express is the centerpiece of the narrative though the stories are otherwise disconnected from each other. Filmed entirely at night, the first story brings the suffocating noxious fumes of carbon dioxide into He Qiwu’s life, a cop suffering in denial over the loss of his girlfriend, a man willing to waste his passion for a faceless companion. When he encounters a mysterious woman in a blonde wig, he futilely attempts physical companionship, seeking lust at the cost of his soul.

The second story, drenched in the golden sunlight of nostalgia, involves the nameless Cop 663 (a wonderful Tony Leung), whose love has taken flight, seeking the freedom of altitude and distance, left alone in his dreary hovel. He meets Faye, a young woman working at Midnight Express: after reading his “Dear John” letter, she secretly attempts to invade his life, breathing oxygen into his lungs and resuscitating his dull and drab existence. Here, Wong Kar-wai imbues the film with a playful attitude and sublime honest humor, while the pop songs warmly devour all emotional turpitude. Cop 663 moves on with his life, Faye’s love reduced to a soggy smeared note: though set free, she is the only one who surprisingly returns.