A Fine Romance Friday: Chungking Express

Like any good American on the day after Thanksgiving, I’m in a bit of a food coma. Not a tryptophan coma–I don’t like and therefore never make turkey; yes, I know, I should revisit that “good American” thing–but a definite one-too-many-helpings-of-pumpkin-pie, why-yes-one-more-roll-would-be-lovely haze. So today’s selection has to be food-related. And my favorite food-related romance is Wong Kar-Wai’s Chungking Express.

We’ve already talked about In the Mood for Love, which is a stunning film, though ultimately not a genre romance. Chungking Express is, however. It’s upbeat, charming, and very very romantic. It’s a perfect post-Thanksgiving fine romance.

It tells two love stories about heart-broken cops in mid-90s Hong Kong. In the first (which is a fairly brief amuse-bouche), a nameless cop waits a month to move on after his girlfriend breaks up with him, meting out a piece of pineapple every day as he works through his grief and memories. When the month is up, he meets a mysterious drug smuggler and invites her up to his room. Things don’t go as planned. In the second story, a young woman working at a fast food noodle place is in love with a cop she serves everyday. He’s too busy nursing a broken heart to notice. Until he does. The end.

Let’s count what’s good here. 1) Tony Leung. Basically, I think he’s incredibly sexy and I’d watch him read the phone book. With subtitles. 2) Michael Galasso’s music, both the original score and the soundtrack choices. This film has the best cinematic use of The Mamas and the Papas’ “California Dreamin'” ever. 3) Christopher Doyle’s cinematography. Doyle and Wong Kar-Wai have a long history of working together, including on In the Mood for Love. But while the cinematography of ITMFL calls attention to itself, almost takes over the film, here it’s invisible and innovative until it does something so casually brilliant that it changes how you understand the profilmic events. Here’s a thoughtful analysis of a 22-second shot from the film that encapsulates the longing in the second story perfectly. 4) The use of classic cinema and longing. In my haze, I’m not going to be able to say this as well as I’d like, but the film uses filmic nostalgia as a stand-in for nostalgia for the past. In the context of the two stories (not to mention the film’s visual coding), it’s a perfect metaphor.

This all makes it sound very pretentious and it’s not. Chungking Express is delightful. If you haven’t seen any Wong Kar-Wai, it’s the perfect place to start. I’ll be watching it with dim sum tonight!

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