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China, Countries, Drama, Genres, Reviews

All the Leaves are Brown: “Chungking Express” (1994, dir. Kar Wai Wong)

Chungking Express 1

Every now and then you sit down to watch a movie expecting just another night with the good ol’ DVD player, only to find yourself being shaken and stirred by something you didn’t quite anticipate. Chungking Express is the sort of movie that shakes you down into the middle of your soul, as if it wants to wake you up and remind you that there are people out there making marvelous films.

The film has no plot to offer us — at least, not as far as I could tell — and instead gives us small, interconnected moments to watch and ponder. At times the film’s flow from one scene to another brings to mind Richard Linklater’s 1991 film Slacker. But Chungking‘s style of cross-cutting jump cuts brings to mind another great film: Jean-Luc Godard’s 1960 film Breathless.

But, if we’re perfectly honest, I’m not a huge fan of Slacker or Breathless  (which is practically heresy). Why, then, did Chungking Express stir me up the way it has? Chungking Express has a strong emotional core that it is built on and (loosely) structured around.

The film is essentially about two cops: Cop 223, and Cop 663. Why the pattern in their ID numbers? I don’t know either. Both of these cops have recently ended relationships. Cop 223’s girlfriend of five Chungking Express 2years just broke up with him, and Cop 663 had a short-lived relationship (if you can call it that) with an airline flight attendant.

These two stories, however, do not run parallel to one another (instead, Cop 663 doesn’t even enter the film until the mid-way point), and other than having scenes that take place in the same location (a small food stall just off of a dirty, dark street), the two stories have nothing to do with one another in terms of narrative or plot. They are  similar to each other, in a certain fashion, but in reality could be viewed separately and still work effectively.

Chungking Express 3 There is one aspect of the film,  however, which particularly stands out in my mind: Faye Wong. When the movie was over I watched a clip of Quentin Tarantino speaking about the film and he said that everyone he knows who has watched the film has developed some sort of crush on this woman. Well he can put my on the list, too.

Chungking Express is a fun and infectious movie to watch, and I suspect the reason for that is Miss Wong and her obsession with the song “California Dreamin'” by The Mamas & Papas. Her character’s name, it just so happens, is Faye, and she seems to be a character straight from a Godard film of the 60s, as if she had been ripped out of a film strip and stuck in front of a camera. To echo something Tarantino said, I know that I, for one, will never be able to get the image of her dancing around the food stand to the song “California Dreamin'” out of my mind.

So what is Chungking Express? Well, to be perfectly honest, I have no idea. It’s about longing it would seem. It’s about wanting things that you can’t have. It’s about people being forced away from each other by their positions in their lives and where they want to eventually lead their lives.

If you like Jean-Luc Godard then check this film out. Period. The end.

But it’s a tough movie to recommend because of how plotless it is. It rambles, but it rambles very well and in a visually spellbinding way. Chungking Express isn’t what I would call an easy sell for a casual movie goer. But if you’re willing to let a film challenge you, if you’re willing to let a film just be and not expect it to really go anywhere or say anything in particular, then check this one out.

Cop 663 says that he likes to stay in one place, but Faye says that she wants to travel around and that if she goes someplace that isn’t fun that she’ll just leave. From that very moment I knew that they would never be together. But the odd thing is that when the film ended I wasn’t sure. I didn’t know what had happened.

I still don’t know what happened, and I still don’t know what the movie was about. But I like how it was about it.

I think I’m gonna go eat some pineapple.

Couldn’t find a satisfactory trailer to post, so I’m posting a scene instead. Hope you enjoy.


About Andrew Bacon

A home school student turned filmmaker. A filmmaker turned film-blogger. A film-blogger who wants nothing more than to be a filmmaker. Mostly though, I just like movies.


2 thoughts on “All the Leaves are Brown: “Chungking Express” (1994, dir. Kar Wai Wong)

  1. This film, to me, eclipses everything Godard ever made. The beauty, confusion, the pure energy and emotion that is thrown onto the screen is incredible. The fact that Wong Kar Wai made this as a stop gap, a way to relieve the pressure of making ‘Ashes of Time’ shows the genius of the man. The one problem is that the first story just can’t live up to the second. That second story…..my word what a thing it is..

    Posted by larkalong | January 5, 2013, 1:33pm
    • I’m not a Godard fan. I’ve always found his films to be haphazard (which is probably the point), but this film just took a hold on me and didn’t let go.

      And I don’t think the film suffers from the first story (or that the first story is a problem), I think it serves as a wonderful building block towards the second half of the film (which is superior).

      Thanks for continuing to check out this place, by the way, I appreciate it!

      Posted by akb_TheProjectionBooth | January 8, 2013, 11:42am

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