Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Chungking Express (1994)

Chinese title: Chungking Jungle.

Chungking Express (1994)If you have been to HK as a tourist and try to get some money converted into HK currency or vice versa around Tsimshatsui area, it's unlikely your eyes would miss Chungking Mansions. This is a very busy area with huge concentration of expats, especially those from South Asia. And the word 'Jungle' in the Chinese title refers to the expression "It's a jungle out there". Or concrete jungle, which Chungking Mansions are.

WKW films are evolutions of his artistic visions. Slowly, his films are evolved from his previous ones. In another words, his movies are never independent from each other. In any given film, there're many connections and linkages to his earlier ones. Of course, the more recent ones have stronger connections than more distant ones.

Rather than talking in general abstract terms, let me offer some examples:

In the 1st 3 of his movies, the % in crime action genre, and % in romance genre could be break down as follow:

Chungking Express
Film   Crime Romance  Name
1st      70%     30%           As Tear Goes By
2nd     40%     60%           Days of Being Wild
3rd      30%     70%          Chungking Express

It's obvious that WKW was evolving from making crime action genre into more and more of romance genre.

In his 1st film, there's the promise of love that never realised. In his 2nd, the film deals with the the rejection of loves by 2 female characters. But this part only starts half way or so through the movie. And in the 3rd, the whole movie is about the copings of the loss of loves.

And WKW always like symmetry in characters and story structures, I pointed out a few of them in his 2nd (previous) film. As I said, his movies have past linkages. In this case, the symmetry in characters are across 2 movies, not within a movie. In previous film, a criminal dumps 2 girls, while this film, 2 girls dump 2 cops. See? swap criminal with cops, and swap the genders of characters being dumped.

As I pointed out in Days of Being Wild (1990), there're some important dates in it (note the word 'Days' in the title).

Similarly dates are featured strongly in this film, in fact more so - April Fool's Day, 1st cop's birthday, break-up days, etc. In short, the idea of time becoming important. Time heals all wounds, and love-sickness. And the time passing are marked by cans of pineapples that expire in his birthday.

The 1st cop deals with his loss of love by looking for another to replace it (too bad, better luck next time, cop!)

Chungking ExpressThe 2nd cop deals with it by denial, pretending that she has not gone: by not opening the envelope, by hoping she would come back any time, etc. And then by distancing himself by pretending that he's the soap, the towel, the house, etc. Finally he comes to accept the fact.

The important of time element is therefore captured in the film's focus on dates and time.

His next film is titled Ashes of Time (1994). Uhmmm...

Prediction: note the word 'Time' in the title...more about time...time will tell.
Better prediction: I will have more to say about time in that movie.

These are just 2 areas I pointed out. Other areas I can think of are casting, and story structures.

As it should be clear by now that WKW is making up his mind what he wants to put in his next movie as he goes along. This explains all the linkages/connections/associations among his films.

The making of this film is a perfect example. He made this film out of a spur of the moment (to kill time) while he was still working on Ashes of Time. He ended up with 3 stories for Chungking Express (1994). But since the 2 stories are already long enough to be featured length, he put the 3rd story into his future movie Fallen Angels. Also while he was making Ashes of Time, it shouldn't come as a surprise when he has TIME in his mind while writing the script for this movie.

What I said should demonstrate clearly that the nebulous nature of his stories, and the numerous cross linkages in his movies come out of his disorganised film makings. Well, one might say this is how a true artist at work. Out of chaos comes creativity.

What all these mean is when watching WKW films, you need to remember 2 things in order to appreciate his films more fully:
1. Don't skip his movies.
2. Watch them in the same chronological order that they were made.

Watch his films as you would with movie series. He makes movie after movie like sequels, but not in the traditional sense. More in the artistic sense. Indeed some of them are in fact sequels in the traditional sense.

Many believe that this movie has the highest critical success in Asian cinema. Not bad for a movie that was shot in 1 day, and at the spur of the moment. Never under-estimate the impulsive, nebulous, random impressionistic flashes of artistry that's embodied and amplified by the cinematography of this film. And that's the stamp of WKW.

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