“You brush past so many people every day. Some people you may never know anything about, but others may become your friend someday.”
This opening line is an explicit statement of the theme of Chungking Express. This ties in directly to the most important part of the film, the shift from the first narrative to the second: From the girl that 223 spends the night with, to the girl he never sees again. The new mystery girl then takes over the film, declaring that Wong Kar-Wai isn't interested in the story where the guy meets the stranger, but the one where he doesn't. Wong uses Chungking Express to explore the mystery boxes of each of the strangers around us, and the genius of the film is tapping into the story potential of how little we know about them. Each person we briefly encounter has their own incredible story, with their own atmospheres, obsessions, fantasies, blunders, and Wong dives headfirst into this rich pool of story. The boldest move of the film is never reconnecting the two narratives. As opposed to so many well-known “network narratives,” Chungking Express is bleakly realistic: when you miss that chance, you miss that chance. There's no overarching god who conveniently intertwines two random, unrelated stories for our viewing pleasure. It's almost chaotically evil in how suddenly and disorientingly it abandons the first story, and how stubbornly it never returns to it. A wonderful subversion of expectations.
Of course, I was also very intrigued by the “step printing” surreal time lapse effect, essentially human-scale stopmotion shot with a slower frame rate but played back at normal speed. A really incredible effect, and I really admire the main actors who had to move so glacially slowly to pull this off so effectively. What is also very interesting is how differently this effect is used between the two stories (chaotic, then melancholic), as well as how each story handles the many other recurring motifs. These repetitions in the music, props, activity, and people create a sense of instant comfort, through simple variations on familiar habits and routines. The wonderfully atmospheric cinematography strikes a stunning contrast between the two stories, especially in the lighting, colors, framing, and the careful camera work, finely navigating the line between intimacy and claustrophobia as needed.
Yet, despite the two distinctly different styles of direction and visual storytelling, the two stories remain closely paralleled. The dramatic noir score of the first story is mirrored in the second story's recurring loud pop song. The first story's chilly blue/yellow colors and moody interior scenes mirror the vibrancy of the second story's sunny settings and well-lit interiors. One love expired after a month, but another love transcended time and distance. Love by pure chance, and love through familiarity and reliability. Both stories reflect on the weird, insane quirks that entertain us through our mundane, lonely lives in search of companionship.
Framed by a fascination with the mysteries of strangers, Chungking Express plays like a series of dreams, fantasies of love that come to the lovesick and the brokenhearted in their most desperate times of need.
This is a very complex, challenging film. I watched it last night and I didn't know how to respond. Over the past several hours, I've been rewatching the movie and working on this review. But I don't know what it's even worth, because I feel like I could watch this again in a few years, or maybe even tomorrow, and understand it completely differently. It's just... fascinating.
-“How do you think the pineapple feels?!” -“Buddy, I just work here.”