Chungking Express (Chongquing Senlin)
Screenplay : Kar-Wai Wong
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 1994
Stars : Takeshi Kaneshiro (First cop), Brigitte Lin (Woman in wig), Tony Leung (Second cop), Faye Wang (Faye), Valerie Chow (Flight attendant)
This movie would probably never have made it to video in America without the help of Quentin Tarantino. He is using his new production label, Rolling Thunder, to bring obscure and foreign films to the local video stores that otherwise wouldn't have ever seen the light of day. "Chunking Express" was the first to come out under this new label, and due to the exciting sound of the title, and the fact that Tarantino admitted he cried when he saw the movie because he "loves it so much," one would come to the conclusion that this is another "Pulp Fiction" or "Reservoir Dogs."
Tarantino, who has always defied easy labeling, has delivered a romance written and directed by Hong Kong auteur Kar-Wai Wong. Granted, there is some elaborate drug smuggling and two action scenes, but they're filmed in an artsy blurred fashion that few American filmmakers would dare use.
"Chunking Express" is actually made up of two, completely unrelated stories. The only link seems to be policemen who have recently lost their girlfriends. The first cop is so sure of getting back his love within a month, that every day he buys a can of pineapples that have the expiration date he thinks his girlfriend will come back before. When she doesn't, he ends up eating all thirty cans in one night, and then meets a mysterious blond-haired woman at a bar. She's not up to talking because her huge drug scheme just went bad, but no matter. Romance is in the air, but not in the way you would assume. This is only one of the small joys of "Chunking Express" -- nothing ever happens as it should.
The second story involves Faye, a worker at the title foodstand. Through a slightly contrived series of events, she winds up with the keys to a cop's apartment. She then sets about making it her business to spend time in his apartment every day, cleaning and rearranging things, even going so far as to change the labels on the cans of food in his cupboard. This charade obviously can't go on forever, but when her afternoon trysts in his abode are discovered, the film still refuses to follow through with a conventional conclusion.
"Chunking Express" is definitely atypical. The plot and characters are almost indispensable to the feel of the movie. In its portrayal of Hong Kong after dark, it's effectively moody, making good use of lighting and music. While not the best film I've ever seen, it was a welcome relief from the kind of formula junk Hollywood has been churning out in recent years. Sometimes it refreshing to see a film that reflects life so well, and the fact that it never fits snugly into a formula. Although it's a bit frustrating during its first viewing because it refuses to cooperate and fill an preconceived notion, "Chunking Express" ultimately rewards with subsequent viewings.
©1997 James Kendrick