Chong qing sen ling (Chungking Express), 1994
Dir: Wong Kar-wai
November 7, 2009
I can't really think of a bigger recent film-watching let down than this. After watching Days of Being Wild (1990), I was all psyched on Wong Kar-wai again after forgetting about him for a while, but this was just not what I wanted at all. It's basically an art-house Desperately Seeking Susan (1985). It's OK in terms of continuing Wong's themes and his overall romantic oeuvre that he had started to build, but the techniques he used to convey them reminded me really just of early 90s music videos.
The film can be broken into two parts, of people who make loose connections to each other while the effects of loneliness and falling in love with the wrong person are observed. The first story involves a lonely detective (He Qiwu, Cop 223) (Takeshi Kaneshiro) who had been dumped on April 1 by his girlfriend May. His quirky view on life makes him believe that he will wait until his birthday on May 1 to see whether they will be rejoined or if it time to move on. He buys lots of cans of pineapples that expire on May 1 to that effect. Meanwhile, a woman in a blonde wig (Brigitte Lin) tries to survive in the drug underworld after a smuggling operation goes sour. She ends up in a bar on May 1 in a world of trouble, and there, a romantically desperate Qiwu tries to make a connection with her. She is at first stand-offish, just wanting to be left alone, but then relents "just to find a place to rest." They go to a hotel room where she just sleeps while he watches movies. He leaves before day break. She leaves in the morning and shoots the drug baron who had set her up. Qiwu goes jogging and receives a message from her on his pager wishing him a happy birthday. He then visits his usual snack food store where he collides with a new staff member, Faye (Canto-pop beauty Faye Wong). At this point, a new story begins.
Takeshi's cop has the kind of quirkiness that just bugs me, and the desperation and occasional playfulness that he exuded in the performance almost seemed fake. Lin's drug smuggler is far more subtle, but maybe that's just because she has far fewer lines and doesn't have the intrusive observational voice-over. My biggest problem of this part was the blurry visual effects and break-neck pace of the editing, which completely threw me for a loop in terms of Wong's usual sumptuous images and meandering pace. It is meant to correspond to the hustle and bustle of urban life, but it just pissed me off. I wanted to see what was going on, to feel the film like the best of Wong's films let you. The sequence in the bar has the lounge music and romantic/pop-art neon-vibe that Wong and DP C. Doyle are known for, and it works pretty well. The "story" is alright, could have been used better though. The "missed connection" theme that was in Days just didn't have the same effect on me, which just goes to show you how much technique/style can be important in a film (for those who like to argue about style/substance issues).
The next part involves that quirky girl Faye, who becomes obsessed with beat-cop 633 (Tony Leung Chiu Wai), who is also going through a break-up. After acquiring a key that 633's ex-girlfriend left with a letter at the snack bar, she frequently breaks into his apartment during the day to redecorate and "improve" his living situation. Gradually, her ploys help Cop 663 to cheer up and he realizes what she is doing, arranging a date at the restaurant "California." However, Faye stands him up after a last-minute decision to see the world before settling down; she leaves him a fake boarding pass with a date a year from now. In the last scene, Faye arrives back in Hong Kong, now a flight attendant; she finds that Cop 633 has bought the snack bar and is converting it into a restaurant. Their future however always remains ambiguous, like most Wong films.
Faye is pretty much adorable, but her dancing around 633's apartment to her own cover of "Dreams" by The Cranberries got on my nerves a little bit, as the quirkiness thing came back as if it was some repetitive theme. She was better off being nonchalant in the snack bar, repetitively listening to "California Dreaming" by The Mommas and the Poppas as loud as possible, a repetitive theme that works for me referencing the date and Faye's eventual departure. Tony Leung is the man, and cannot really be faulted for anything, his beat-cop throwing out longing looks as he tries to figure things out. The story here lacks the first part's bite, but I think it was executed better. The visual effect of slowing down the two main characters while speeding up everything else in a few scenes was effective if obvious. The voice-over was used way too much, but it's hard to fault the last scene, which will probably be hated by those who hated the last scene in Days, but it's probably the only great thing in this film if you ask me.