Chungking Express (1994)

Rates: * * * * *

Why Did I Watch It? Scrolling through my hard drive, I came across this and I realised I had never seen it.

Cast, crew, etc


He Qiwu is a sad sack police detective in Hong Kong, pining for the girl who just dumped him. In a nightclub he meets an unnamed woman in a blonde wig; actually a petty criminal, on the run from a drug deal gone wrong. The two get drunk and spend the night in a hotel, although the woman just falls asleep, leaving He Qiwu to cable TV and room service.

Meanwhile a beat cop, known only by his badge number, 663, drifts apart from his girlfriend and starts hanging out at the titular restaurant, a cheap and cheery fast food joint. There he catches the eye of one of the workers, Faye; a child like woman with a playful sensibility. She is interested in 663, but cannot bring herself to approach him directly; instead she follows him around, and starts breaking into his apartment, cleaning it when he is not home.

These two stories play one after the other, and are only connected by the slightest of threads; each of the characters pass within 0.01 cm of each other.

Hong Kong forms the backdrop in this movie, and also informs much of its thematic ideas. The city is a hyperactive metropolis that forces its inhabitants to match its rhythms, and forming regular relationships is difficult in this environment. This leaves the characters to interact with the random acquaintances the city puts in their path. It’s about the difficulty of connection in the modern world, where we have endless means to communicate with one another, and find ever greater difficulty in doing so.

In the first story, the connection is fleeting. The characters only spend a few hours together, and will likely not see each other again; the mystery woman shoots one of her underworld associates, and you suspect will either flee, or be killed herself. But the characters make a meaningful impression on each other; He Qiwu is attracted to her, which snaps the spell of his ex, and the woman sends him a message wishing him a happy birthday, after they part. It is only a small gesture, but shows she has not lost touch with her humanity, despite the cutthroat world she exists in. These two reached each other.

In the second story, the character’s meeting may lead to something more sustainable. While Faye is not able to bring herself to ask # 663 out, struggles even to hold down a conversation with him, her shenanigans do advance her as a person. As she cleans and alters his apartment, play acting at a relationship she is not quite ready for, she seems to be growing into herself; from an aimless eccentric, to someone with agency. Towards the end, Faye leaves suddenly, departing on the overseas trip to California she has always dreamed of. This is her coming of age; when she returns some time later, she is now ready for something with 663. She finds him running the takeaway place where they met, and their reunion is charming; a lovely coda.

Mystery woman

Writer/director Wong Kar-Wai has given us four memorable characters, who are almost endlessly fascinating. You are never sure, at any time, what they will do or say next. The women are especially enigmatic; the mystery woman has a look for the film history hall of fame, and Faye is an anarchic and unpredictable sprite. But the boys are unusual in their own way, although they guard their quirks more closely; He Qiwu buys a can of commemorative pineapple each day, it was his GF’s favourite, and 663 imagines his departed lady’s clothes talk to him, and weep in her absence. The relentless pace of the city they live in renders them almost anonymous; it is only in the camera’s keen eye that we see them for who they are.

The director and his long time, and legendary, DP Christopher Doyle, have captured life in Hong Kong’s neon glare with lively lustre. You never see the characters in a natural setting, everything is artificial; a series of underground bars, crowded subway stations, glaring lights and hole in the wall shops. While it is designed to feel alien, it is ravishing to look at. I also loved the electro fever dream music, which adds considerably to the film’s mood.

Witty, heartfelt, emotional and cerebral; a flat out modern masterpiece, full of surprises. Wonderful.

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