Love Under Unusual Circumstances: The Criterion Collection presents ‘Chungking Express’
Chungking Express (1994)
Directed by Kar Wai Wong
Hong Kong – 102 min. Color
Criterion Spine #453
A masterpiece in levity and pop cultural reverence, Wong Kar Wai’s 1994 film Chungking Express, uses pop art elements in order to create a unique vision of love in the modern world. Using the premise of a crime or gangster film, two independent narratives are presented, both featuring heart broke police officers that find love under unusual circumstances.
This film tells two somewhat similar but unrelated stories about loneliness and alienation in the big city. In the first story, a policeman pines after his former girlfriend and gives himself 30 days to find another woman; in the second story, another policeman catches the eye of an attractive waitress, who’s intent on completely rearranging his life
The film is heavily referential to Wong Kar-Wai’s early work which is situated almost primarily within the gangster and criminal genre. However, the film subverts all expectations of these previous efforts, and demonstrates a significant departure in his filmography. The transformation is made especially apparent by the mid-film shift, which highlights the separation of contemporary culture from the criminal element.
Chungking Express borrows heavily from pop culture. Most notably, the film is saturated with disposal consumer culture. References to particular brands are consistent, as is the focus on material products. The use of advertising signifies a dissolve between high and low art, making the disposable immortal and beautiful. Also in the dissolution of genre conventions, he is blurring the lines between “low art” genre cinema and “high art” art house cinema.
What really sets the film apart is its upbeat and hopeful tone. It is easily one of the most endearing films in the last few decades, suggesting that despite the loneliness and isolation that urbanization has caused, love is still possible. The means and circumstances have changed, but the possibilities for happiness remain.
– Justine Smith