Criterion Corner: Chungking Express (1994)

The Criterion Collection for years have been releasing the best versions of movies on DVD and Blue Ray.  They are hands down the ultimate praise a film can receive,and while many claim  the Oscar to be  the ultimate recognition.  Having the work and praise that goes into a Criterion edition.  Shows that it was put together by film lovers for film lovers.  This section is going to be dedicated to some of the great movies in this growing collection.

Chungking poster

Chungking Express.

Cast: Tony Leung, Faye Wong, Bridget Lin

Writer and Director Kar Wai Wong

If it wasn’t for Quentin Tarantino, I would have never heard of this flick before.  This was part of his rolling thunder video collection and when I popped it in back in 1995.  I was expecting more of an action movie.  Something in the style of say John Woo whose movie “The Killer” was the first Asian movie I’ve seen that wasn’t poorly dubbed in English.  That was not the case with “Chungking Express” and while I was not crazy about the flick when I first watched it.  I’m very glad I stuck with it because it became a very rewarding experience.  It’s one of those movies that  I don’t fully love and yet I want to watch it again.

The first shots involve a woman with a blonde wig frantically running through what appears to be the back alleys of a much bigger city.  I’m going to assume that this is Tokyo, even though I have no idea of what that city actually looks like because I have never been there.  The vapid disjointed camera movements mixed in with equally fast violin sounds give the movie a very  fresh unique look right from the start.  The woman with the blonde wig runs into a police officer and the film quickly switches to his point of view.  He is a cop whose girlfriend has just recently broke up with him at the beginning of April.  The cop decides to buy a can of pineapples with an expiration date of May 1st.  If she doesn’t come back by then,he’ll know that their love has truly expired. I’ll admit that this part of the film was kind of weak.  Watching a guy mope around about his ex while eating expired cans of fruit was not at all very  exciting.  The woman in the blonde wig trying to get the drop on a dealer who betrayed her was a much better story in my opinion.  I wish the main focus was on her, and the other one could have been used as a small subplot.  Both her and the cop meet at a bar and go home together, but nothing happens.(the most she does is leave him a happy birthday message )   The cops goes to a snack shop and runs into the new lady that works there.  This is where the first story stops and the second one begins.

Chungking 1
The lady in question is named Faye and she spends most of her days at work listening to “California Dreaming” by the Mama and The Papas.  I don’t why but hearing that song played as much as it does here never got old for me.  It was the perfect example of a pop song  used in a very effective way to help with the emotional context of the images on-screen.  Faye is secretly in love with a different cop, but is way too shy to tell him.  She gets the keys to his apartment and begins to help clean it while he is away.  When he returns each night he notices that things are not always in the same place, but continues his routine of talking to the objects around his house.  When Faye finally admits to liking him she sets up a time for them to both meet.  However when the day finally comes,she never shows up.  Instead she leaves to become a flight attendant.  Did she do this because that’s what his last girlfriend did or was it because for once she was doing something for herself  instead of other people. I’m not really sure why to tell you the truth.  This is where the movie kind of lost me, but I still stuck with it.  If anything it had a really good Japanese cover of “Dreams” by The Cranberries that worked very well in the later scenes.  Both the cop and Faye meet up again near the end, but it’s unclear on what will become of them later on.

The second story was the best part about this movie and I really wish that this was the one that was spread out to a feature film, and yet looking back at this.  I’m glad the first section existed because without it.  The later scenes wouldn’t have had the same type of impact.  Each section and the characters in them seem to compliment each other.  The lonely cop who collects nearly expired cans of fruit is very much like Faye in that they are both dreamers. I’m sure there is a connection between the object of Faye’s affection and the blonde woman from the first half but I need to watch this a few more times before I can make that assumption.

Sadly I have not seen many movies from Kar Wai Wong, and with the release of “The Grandmaster” early this year.  It’s time I fixed this.  What other movies of his would you recommend I see.  Thanks for reading.

Special Features:

  • New, restored high-definition digital transfer, with Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack (DVD edition) and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack (Blu-ray edition) supervised by director Wong Kar-wai
  • Remastered Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack supervised by director Wong Kar-wai
  • Audio commentary by noted Asian cinema critic Tony Rayns
  • U.S. theatrical trailer
  • Episode excerpt from the BBC Television series Moving Pictures, featuring Wong and cinematographer Christopher Doyle
  • New and improved English subtitle translation
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring a new essay by critic Amy Taubin

About The Vern

I love movies and I enjoy writing about them too. They both go pretty much hand in hand with each other and it's fun to discover new classics. I co host the podcasts The Film Pasture, ScreenTrax, and soon Cinema Recall. While also contributing reviews and articles to other great sites when I can.
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7 Responses to Criterion Corner: Chungking Express (1994)

  1. ninvoid99 says:

    This was the 3rd WKW film I’ve seen and it’s my all-time favorite WKW film. I was enjoying it and then came Faye Wong. All of a sudden, I was in love. It’s definitely a film like no other. I still have 3 more WKW films to see as I’m going to do an Auteurs piece on him in December. As for “The Grandmaster”. I’d go see it in the theaters but it’s really a more condensed version of the film as I saw 2 versions of it. The version I recommend is the longer 130-minute Chinese cut of the film which I think has more emotional weight to the story. My review has more detail about what the U.S. version did.

  2. nasen75 says:

    Wong Kar Wai is basically my favorite director in general. I only saw 3 of his movies, but I enjoyed all 3 of them a lot! You need to see In the Mood for Love and 2046!

  3. Chris says:

    Agree the second half is the best, feels unique compared to other romance movies.
    There’s actually a pretty good sequel called Fallen Angels (1995), it was originally conceived as the third story for Chungking Express. Not quite a sequel exactly, more like a parallel universe. Still romantic, just with a darker tone.

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