Chungking Express (1994) – The Complexities of Being Human



Cop 663 – Tony Chiu Wai Leung
Faye – Faye Wong
Cop 223 – Takeshi Kaneshiro
Woman in Blonde Wig – Brigitte Lin
Air Hostess – Valerie Chow
Manager of the Café – Chen Jinquan

Imagine a city with a robustness of an industrial menace scattered with people from various cultures and races; imagine the crowd making it impossible to breathe the air of divinity. Imagine yet again—feeling lost and lonely around the branches of this unforgiving dystopia, or now, imagine just once more being in Wong Kar Wai’s world of Hong Kong through his vision unifying with his imagination, and his unraveling of life in Asia’s city of dreams… Two allegorical stories wrapped in one film, Chungking Express expresses the cold and distant nature of Hong Kong. People confined within the physical throngs with an ethereal ambiguity—fighting for their own space, yet lost in the emptiness that is truly within this world. This very unforgiving lust of the city to gulp within every micro emotion flying takes the stage for an abstruse drama from a filmmaker who has created his own niche as a master of storytelling.

Two men in uniform, Cops 223 and 663, face the same predicament—floating in love and tragedy. Both with their eyes set on finding solace. Seeking a companion to share their life with, to give love, and receive some in return, both these cops find somebody, but what comes with that somebody is hardly what they bargained for. Cop 223 finds a companion in an underworld woman, while Cop 663 receives redemption through a free-spirited intrigue; quirky, eccentric, and adorable.


Chungking Express features Wong Kar Wai’s hyperkinetic camera movement, angles, and uniquely executed shots building a bizarre and anticipatory feeling in the viewer. The burry motion images used appropriately and the magnificent utilization of a pause-play, background time lapse reveal the psychology of the characters in a far more convincing manner—using it as a vehicle to express the emotions of the movie through smooth images and filming. That would, of course, only compliment the overall flow of the movie if the movie was backed by a strong storyline and astute execution, which hardly needs to be exemplified for Wong Kar Wai’s unique presentation of a dysfunctional mystery is rich as a story and effective as a film.

Complex characters, real world, real events, and simple stories; the motto has always been the same for Wong Kar Wai. Using the same formula, a second nature for the director, Chungking Express has distinct, multi-layered characters that resemble real-life people giving it a tangible feel that is backed significantly by some of the subplots like the drug smuggling, the method they use, and the underworld mafia at a bigger scale joined together by the emotional vulnerabilities and hollowness of the central characters at its intrinsic core. The lead characters in the movie, both of them, go through the same problem, but in a different world, with a different standpoint. It’s a problem everybody goes through in some form. The perspectives may vary, but the nub of the problem barely does. The only facet that could separate the two personalities would be the inherent desire that forces them act in their own ways—mild as it may seem, subtle as it may appear, but it surely carries a mammoth of sentimental force behind, which is what Wong Kar Wai illustrates rather coldly and accurately in putting across the lives of the characters on the screen.


A movie such as Chungking Express, a different mystery all together, is another color in the world of filmmaking that needs to be cherished and decorated. For World Cinema, it’s matchless, it’s a gem. While not remotely possible for a movie as erratic, layered, and whimsical as Chungking Express to garner a universal acceptance, but it has in many ways and that’s the barometer of true success for the movie. As if it’s not obvious, Chungking Express is damn good—a brute cinema that may appear experimental for global audiences, but is nothing more than a pragmatic and ideological, even minuscule form of cinema for somebody like Wong Kar Wai.

The story of does dip a little somewhere in the middle. The second story gets a bit slow just before the ending, but the first story is a practical cinematic delight. Whilst the second story is the real story and is much deeper and mature exploring human sentiments, the first one might be a little more entertaining even though it’s surficial. The contrast would be in the dramatics; the first one is closer to a fast-paced thriller, whilst the second one is a profound drama on life. Combine the two as fables on life and living of life in Hong Kong, and you have a metaphorical account of what constitutes of life in its fluid state of fragmentation.


An exclusive presentation, Chungking Express is a brutal demolishment of urban life and an epic from the director. Twenty years has passed since Chungking Express hit the screens, and with time, it has only grown as a movie, a stylish form of instinctive cinema that remains as puzzling today as it was back then. Wong Kar Wai has perhaps toppled Chungking Express with his platonic In the Mood for Love (2000), but this remains the original classic from a filmmaker who neither treats cinema as a commerce or art—for him, cinema is just cinema; the revealing of a simple story through the lens of characters who are no different than the ones you would find in real life. For a fan of World Cinema, you owe it to yourself to watch this movie. Stylish, raw, and deep—Chungking Express in a nutshell.


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