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With: Brigitte Lin, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Faye Wong
Written by: Wong Kar-wai
Directed by: Wong Kar-wai
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some violence, sexuality and drug content
Language: Cantonese with English subtitles
Running Time: 102
Date: 01/08/1994

Chungking Express (1994)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Pineapple Jacks

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Buy Chungking Express on DVD

Chungking Express is the fourth film by Hong Kong art-house filmmaker Wong Kar-wai. Quentin Tarantino saw this film in 1994 and, under the wing of Mirimax, developed his own releasing company, Rolling Thunder, thereby making the film available to Americans who have trouble finding watchable Hong Kong cinema. This earns him back the points that he lost with Four Rooms. Technically, this is a 1994 film, but I'm going to count it as a 1996 film under the same rules that the Academy follows. And Chungking Express is one of the best of 1996.

It's a strange film. Like Tarantino Wong Kar-wai seems to be very cinema-savvy, tossing unusual combinations into his cinema mishmash. The movie feels mainly like Godard with its jump cuts and teeter totter camerawork. But Wong's work doesn't feel random. Each shot snaps into place, exactly the way nature meant it to be. And where Godard's characters were hipsters, Wong's characters are just lonely. There's also a little Blade Runner thrown in, with its forlorn saxophone music, dark, rainy alleys and sweaty junk food shops. Other reviews mention everything else from Chaplin to MTV.

The movie stars Tony Leung (from John Woo's Bullet in the Head and Hard-Boiled) and the great Bridget Lin (from The East Is Red and The Bride With White Hair). (Lin announced that this would be her last film.) There are two stories, about lonely policemen, are connected by theme but not by plot. The first picks up a dangerous woman in a blond wig (Lin), and the second doesn't realize that a cute counter girl (Faye Wong) at a food stand is breaking into his apartment and slowly redecorating it. This beautiful, quirky film is much lighter in tone than Days of Being Wild and is probably a good place to start for new viewers. Takeshi Kaneshiro co-stars.

However, though quite a few people whose opinions I value did not like Chungking Express, it can be rewarding if you're tuned in to it. Like Pulp Fiction before it, Chungking Express is unlike almost any film I have ever seen, and yet it is like almost every film I have ever seen. Its imagination, character and vitality set it apart from its peers.

DVD Details: The 2008 Criterion Collection DVD comes with a new, restored high-definition digital transfer, a remastered Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack supervised by director Wong Kar-wai, audio commentary by noted Asian cinema critic Tony Rayns, the U.S. theatrical trailer, an episode excerpt from the BBC Television series Moving Pictures, featuring Wong and cinematographer Christopher Doyle, a new and improved English subtitle translation and a booklet featuring a new essay by critic Amy Taubin. Also available on Blu-Ray.

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