Saturday, February 11, 2006

Chungking Express

Chungking Express (4.5/5)

Chungking Express is cut into two distinct but tangentially related stories. The first involves a police officer recovering from a breakup with his long term girlfriend May. He is so obsessive that every day he buys a can of pineapple juice with an expiration date of May 1st (also his birthday). Eventually his paths cross with a cocaine smuggler who has been double crossed. The two make an unlikely pair, but the film is smart enough not to play up the theme of lovers (well, more like a lonely pair who happen to occupy similar space) from the opposite sides of the fence.

The second story involves another police officer and a local restaurant worker. This is where things get good. The second police officer has also recently broken up with his stewardess girlfriend (stolen from him by the police officer from the first story). The stewardess leaves a Dear John letter and the keys to the officer’s apartment at the restaurant so he can pick it up. What follows is an energetic, funny, and ultimately emotional love story.

Much of the success goes to Faye Wong, who admires the police officer from afar (and eventually from not so afar). She’s charismatic and an absolute joy to watch on screen. In fact she has enough energy to match Wong Kar-Wai's frantic camerawork. The role could have easily been annoying or downright creepy. She’s downright charming. I should probably continue with the review lest my fawning will be seen as annoying and creepy.

I enjoyed the second story so much that I almost wish the entire film was devoted to it (although a majority of the movie is). Wong Kar-Wai seems to be playing with the theme of urban isolation. The contradictory feeling of seclusion when you’re surrounded by throngs of people. Yet somehow, despite the competing cultures and fast-paced non-interaction, there is a thin thread connecting you to everyone around you.

I don’t really know what Chungking Express is about, but I do know that it’s fun. It’s easily the best romance I’ve seen in a very long time. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen an American romance that was any good (do they make American romance films anymore, or are they all comedies with romantic endings tacked on?). This is the kind of movie you feel elated when it’s over—the kind of movie you watch movies for.

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