Whenever I get upset with myself for how many things I’ve yet to see or do, particularly when it comes to movies, I like to remind myself that everything comes when it needs to. The opportunity to see a film I may have missed up until a certain point in my life, arrives when it is meant to. When there is something I need to take from it, need to share, or need to digest in the particular circumstances in which I find myself. Plus, you know, there are only so many hours in the day.
So it is with Chunking Express, one of the 10 films Wong Kar-wei has made so far in his career as one of China’s most exciting directors and auteur of the Hong Kong Second New Wave. Three of his films came in on the BBC’s List of 100 Greatest Foreign Films. Happy Together (1997) at 71 and In the Mood for Love (2000) at nine, join , Chungking Express (1994) at 56.
Considered to be one of the more lighter offerings among his work, Chungking Express tells the parallel stories of two police-officers broken by love. I had wanted to see this film, as I am making my way through Kar-wei’s work, after I finally saw The Grandmaster at the Metrograph on my birthday earlier this year. But I was prompted to watch Chungking when I saw Moonlight director Barry Jenkins’ video intro for it on Filmstruck, and heard him speak about how it influenced his filmmaking style. With the sad news that Filmstruck will be closing down at the end of the month, I am trying to make my way through my saved list as much as I can. And through the wonderful intros and extra features the streaming services has.
Back to Chungking, our two cops, 223 and 663, played by Takeshi Kaneshiro and Tony Leung respectively, both play men who are dealing with heartbreak. 223 uses running – or jogging, as he calls it – to help him. He sees it as a way to get rid of water in his body so that there is none left for crying. When he calls his ex-girlfriend’s home to talk to everyone but her, he asks her sister, who we infer tells him she has been running, if she was dumped again. When it comes back that she is in fact running a race, he yells at her that jogging is private; “you don’t jog for an audience.” As a runner who does marathons in the midst of thousands of people, this line was most humorous to me.
223’s running is one reason this film resonated with me. When it opens, we are treated to one of Kar-wei’s wonderful, colour-stop chase scenes, in which 223 — who’s name is He Qiwu — is running after a thief, and he bumps past Faye Wong’s character, the woman he will try to distract his heart with, 50-odd hours later. But he tells the man behind the counter at the Midnight Express, the place that provides the link between our two protagonists, that “we’re all unlucky in love sometimes. When I am, I go jogging. The body loses water when you jog, so you have none left for tears.”
When 223 and Faye Wong’s wigged-and-sunglasses-wearing character do spend the night together – platonically – and he leaves to go for a run, he receives a message on his pager from her wishing him happy birthday. It’s enough for him to let go and move on. The concept of memories and putting them in containers with expiration dates is a prevailing theme in the first part of this film. Depending on where he is looking from, 223 wants that expiration date to be 10 000 years, or never, so that he always has them. But dealing with a break-up means putting an expiration date on memories so you don’t let them haunt your days to come.
The second part is 663’s heartache, and it plays with words — of California a nightclub, versus going to the real state, of ordering new items of food and sticking with the tried and true.
The music is sumptuous too. The Mamas and the Papas, a Cantonese version of The Cranberries’ Dreams and What a Difference a Day Makes from Dinah Washington. Plus, the wonderful theme, Baroque, composed by Michael Galasso.