The whiplash, double-pronged Chungking Express is one of the defining works of nineties cinema and the film that made Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar-wai an instant icon. Two heartsick Hong Kong cops (Takeshi Kaneshiro and To... more »ny Leung), both jilted by ex-lovers, cross paths at the Midnight Express take-out restaurant stand, where the ethereal pixie waitress Faye (Faye Wong) works. Anything goes in Wong s gloriously shot and utterly unexpected charmer, which cemented the sex appeal of its gorgeous stars and forever turned canned pineapple and the Mamas and the Papas California Dreamin into tokens of romantic longing.
SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES:
New, restored high-definition digital transfer
Remastered Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack supervised by director
Audio commentary by noted Asian cinema critic Tony Rayns
U.S. theatrical trailer
New and improved English subtitle translation
PLUS: A booklet featuring a new essay by critic Amy Taubin and excerpts from a 1996 Sight and Sound interview with Wong by Rayns
"Located in the heart of mainland Hong Kong, the Chungking Mansions loom huge and ramshackle over Nathan Road. Wags and scoundrels haunt its gates, along with a ragged assortment of Indian touts, whores and long-term transient workers from Africa. Restaurants, tailors, psychics and a whole host of other occupations - some undoubtably illegal - infest the bottom floors in tiny, grimy compartments. Chungking is also the backpacker ghetto of Kowloon: guesthouses offer rooms as cheap as $10 a night, and the loose, chaotic atmosphere is appealing to the more adventurous traveler. When I visited Hong Kong for a week in 2002, there was no other realistic option, for finance concerns and the `lust for life' drive, than the infamous Chungking: intrigue seemed to lurk around every corner. While staying there, my guesthouse manager suggested I rent and watch the *Chungking Express*, a 1994 film by Won Kar Wai, loosely connected around the building. I never got around to it...until three years later...and in a way I'm glad I waited to watch this delicious romp about love, obsession and betrayal, for it sparked the nostalgia cylinders and left me in that awed, giddy state that only the best of films can do.
Made on the quick by Won Kar Wai as a means of rejuvenating his creative energy, *Chungking Mansions* originally consisted of three interlocking stories, but one met the axe (to resurface as its own film) to give proper attention (i.e. running time) to those that remained. Of the two stories, only the first has any relation with the Chungking Mansions: a hard-luck dame scours the sleazy corridors for drug-mules, and I must say that the general ambience of the Mansions is faithfully captured. The second story occurs in Kowloon and on the Island, and is connected to the first by one chance encounter (~a brilliant means of transitioning chapters) and the underlying themes of loneliness, disconnection and desire.
In the first tale, undercover cop He Zhiwu (Takeshi Kaneshiro) broods over the disintegration of his relationship with `May,' pining for his lost love with a rather unrealistic `period of absence' scheme and, after a time, seeking comfort from any chance encounter. "I'll fall in love with the next woman I see," Zhiwu vows in a fit of desperation; and who should come along but Brigette Lin, a mysterious figure whom we've already seen in dire straights in the bowels of Chungking. This story has the visual glamour of noir - red-lit bars, blur-motion fragments of violence, a femme fatale betrayed and subsequently `saved' by the gentleman Zhiwu - yet the dialoge really makes it stand above more typical entries into the genre, especially Zhiwu's internal narration, which ranges from clueless to insightful to downright hilarious. Slight but charming, with enough visceral action and mystery to keep the pace from flagging.
The second story is by far my favorite of the two, and most audiences agree on this, taking into consideration critical acclaim and the reviews on this page; it is easy to see why. A cop (Tony Leung) stops at the same deli every day for his coffee and chef salad, where he meets and slowly develops a relationship with Faye (Faye Wong), a not-quite-sane nymphet who promptly falls in love with him. Acquiring a key to his apartment, Faye begins to sneak in and rearrange her secret love's living quarters while he is gone. Leave it to the Chinese to make stalker-obsession cute and poignant! Yet it works, due in large part to the natural sounding and psychologically keen dialogue of the script, and therein made effective by the acting of the two leads. Faye Wong, perhaps the biggest pop/rock star in China, makes her screen debut here, and what a debut! It is practically impossible to not fall a little in love with her furtive, wild-at-heart character. Wong articulates more with a mere look or throwaway gesture about the titanic struggle of repressed desire than most professional actors seem capable of. Tony Leung, a veteran of Hong Kong's silver screen, shines as usual as the lonesome, half-oblivious cop, and his energy with Wong feels right, so natural. This is very important in the later climax of the film, when the director stretches the tension to a breaking point and even manages to milk some well-earned trauma from these circling, faraway (so close) lonely souls.
Watching *Chungking Express* brought back a lot of memories. In the background and seeping through the surface, Hong Kong glitters and roars, and the film itself eventually feels like an organic growth of the city, in tune to its rhythms and real-life atmosphere. But one not need be acquainted with the City of the Nine Dragons to appreciate the quality of *Chungking Express* - this is movie magic in its finest form, infectious and reflective, a paramount example of Asian cinema at its most illuminating. Five stars. "
You're not daydreaming. You're sleepwalking.
Zack Davisson | Seattle, WA, USA | 01/25/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Like a sweet dream half-remembered, "Chungking Express" wavers on the back of your consciousness, seducing you into its semi-fantasy/semi-honest world of the chance of romance, and the necessity of proximity (0.01 of a centimeter is the distance of attraction) to filling an empty heart. It is appropriate that "California Dreaming" is the background for much of the film, because dreaming is what the characters do, moving sluggishly through a life not quite real.
It is difficult to know what to make of the film at first. There are two stories, interspersed with each other in through the film, both love stories involving policemen, a deli shop, and women whom they would love. Unlike "Pulp Fiction," they do not meet up at the end, and the strangers remain strangers. There is no neat package. Rather, like Banana Yoshimoto's novels, they are linked thematically, with the same tale being told with different cast members, to see how each person finds their own ending, regardless of the beginning. While Yoshimoto is Japanese, and Kar Wai is Chinese, there is a similarity in Asian story-telling evident in "Chungking Express."
As to this DVD, while it is great to see Quentin Tarantino bring Kar Wai's films to a wider audience, I find his commentary a bit annoying and self-serving. Taratino makes some great flicks, and Kar Wai is an obvious influence on him, but he doesn't have the personality to comment on something so sweet and subtle as "Chungking Express." This is just a personal observation, however, and others may disagree.
Director Kar Wai Wong is a rising star of cinema, seeping to the public consciousness slowly and surely, becoming less of a "Hong Kong Director" and more of an important contributor to modern film. "Chungking Express" is a fine introduction to his work, showcasing his subtle love stories, use of atmosphere and disorientating techniques, such as multiple-languages and film manipulation. Anyone who has seen "Lost in Translation," "Amelie" or "Kill Bill" will find his films familiar.
The Blu-ray version is AWESOME!!!
Dennis A. Amith (kndy) | California | 01/02/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I really love this film. "CHUNGKING EXPRESS" is the ultimate pop art film that won a lot hearts when it was first released and continues to this day. And not only has the film jumpstarted the film careers of Wong Kar-wai, Christopher Doyle, Takeshi Kaneshiro and Faye Wong (despite having an awesome music career), "CHUNGKING EXPRESS" is one of those non-action Asian films that has continued to become a fan favorite for fans all over the world.
This film is now part of the Criterion Collection and when Criterion's name is on a film release, you know that you're going to get a quality release. So, what did Criterion do for this release?
VIDEO & AUDIO:
Criterion is known to making their final masters to what the director's had in mind. In this case, presenting the director's requested aspect ratio of 1:66:1.
The new high definition transfer according to Criterion was created on a Spirit 2K Datacine from a 35 mm internegative and a 35 mm interpositive. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris and scratches were removed using the MTI Digital Restoration System and Pixel Farm's PF Clean. For a film that is nearly 15 years old, the goal for Criterion was not to give a crisp and clear picture but to make sure that the requested aspect ratio was successful and removing all the dirt and scratches that have plagued previous releases of the film.
Oh, and I just have to say that things that were cut out of the US VHS/DVD release are intact in this Blu-ray version. But as far as video quality goes, you will find the colors noticeable especially at the bar when you see the CD's in the jukebox spin and see the vibrant colors.
I have caught a few instances of color pulsing (due to the older print) and there were no artifacting. As for the audio, the original soundtrack was remastered by Tuu Duu-chih at 3H Sound Studios in Taipei under the supervision of Wong Kar-wai. According to Criterion, the audio restoration tools have been used to reduce clicks, pops, hiss and crackle.
The audio is what I loved about this release. While watching the film and knowing that the majority of the film is dialogue-driven and as expected during the music scenes, to hear the music really become prominent but what I didn't expect to hear, which put a smile to my face is the rear surround and hearing the people talking, the cars beeping and while the front speakers were busy with scenes such as the lady in the blonde wig with the Indian smugglers, you hear the whole life of the city come alive through the rear surround.
Suffice to say, I was quite happy to hear the audio channels used effectively in this dialogue-driven film by taking the city's ambiance and having it come alive. Well done! And for those passionate about the film, hearing the tunes of "Baroque", "California Dreamin'" and Faye Wong's cover of the popular Cranberries song ala "Dreams" is just so fun and how music, even a few songs really made this pop art film truly shine.
In the past release, we had Quentin Tarentino's introduction to CHUNGKING EXPRESS", this time around with the Criterion release, we have the following:
* An audio commentary featuring Asian cinema critic Tony Rayns who has talked to Wong Kar-wai in regards to certain scenes and also, we learn about how Chinese culture influenced certain situations such as the use of dates and certain phrases in the film. Also, the reason why certain music was used and pretty much how commercials really influenced Wong Kar-wai for this film. A very informative commentary. * A 1996 episode of the British television series Moving Pictures featuring interview swith Wong and cinematographer Christopher Doyle - This segment was made in 1996 thus the quality despite being in HD, is not too great. But nevertheless, it was very fun to watch this 15-minute segment and watching these interviews with Wong and Christopher. Really awesome details as the two walk into the places where the Midnight Express was shot and also the apartment actually was Doyle's apartment. Very informative. * Then the US Theatrical trailer which was loved by American critics but unfortunately the film company didn't know how to market the film, thus it didn't do to well in America. * A booklet featuring a new essay by critic Amy Taubin - For those familiar with Amy Taubin's work on "Sight & Sound", Taubin really gets into the film and definitely writes about the film and its characters in a unique way. Definitely an entertaing read for those who watched the movie. Do not read this booklet first if you haven't seen the film.
The Blu-ray is presented in a digibook type of case with a slip cover.
I've owned so many variations of this film already that I can't help but smile throughout the film and just seeing how beautiful it looks on Blu-ray and how good the sound quality was and hearing so many things all around me.
For those who were expecting a digital remastered version that will have a pristine, crisp and vibrant look as some older Blu-rays have managed to have, the Criterion Edition is beautiful but not spectacularly gorgeous but for those watching a Criterion release, the goal is not to change the film and change the colors.
Their goal was to present the film with the supervision of Wong Kar-wai and Christopher Doyle and how they wanted the film to be. If you watched the original DVD version or previous versions, this film has aged but with the Criterion edition, the video looks beautiful without the scratches and all the dust and looks cleaned up. Personally, I don't know if we'll see the film any better than this presentation. It's truly an awesome release on Blu-ray and absolutely love it!
I really hope that Criterion possibly considers releasing the third story via the film "Fallen Angels"on Blu-ray. Wong kar-wai created the third story for CHUNGKING EXPRESS" but because it would make the film to lengthy, he cut it out and carried it over to his next film, "Fallen Angels". So, knock on wood, I hope that Criterion considers it because the treatment they gave for "CHUNGKING EXPRESS" was well done and definitely enhanced the whole experience for me, I found it quite beautiful.
Perhaps I'm a bit biased because I enjoyed this film so much but overall, this release is solid and definitely recommended!"
Not your typical HK flick....
Simon Gifford | St. Albans, UK | 08/13/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This movie (directed by Wong Kar-wai) tells two separate stories. In the first one, a lonely cop who has just been left out in the cold by his girl-friend May, buys and eats expired cans of pineapple and meets a woman who turns out to be a ruthless heroin dealer (Brigitte Lin) who wears a blonde wig. In the second story, a cop who has been dumped by his girlfriend is really unhappy, moping round his apartment all day. Then he meets the waitress at the local fast food joint (Faye Wong), who dreams of going to California.I really liked watching this film. The imagery and camerawork is stunning, and it is amusing and sad in equal parts, telling the story of how lonely the people are. Another striking thing is the inventive use of music within the stories which is used to illustrate certain points - listen out for songs like "What A Difference A Day Makes" and the Mamas and the Papas classic hit "California Dreamin`". I didn`t expect to hear English songs in a Hong Kong movie.I think it's a nice change to see another type of Asian movie, one which isn`t all shooting or kung-fu. It has an experimental style, lots of energy, and is not afraid to be different. I highly recommend this tape to people who want to check out a different sort of HK film. If you pass it up, you`re missing out on a gem."
Great film, obviously not for everyone
Peter | Canada | 02/08/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"If you have any passion for the art cinema, any affinity for the French new wave and any tolerance for a non-static camera, then there is a good chance you will like or love Chungking express. To fault this movie for having "no plot"(and by the way, it certainly did have a plot - just not one in the classical hollywood mould) seems quite ridiculous to me. There are many categories of film - hollywood narrative, art cinema and experimental to name a few. Wong Kar Wai is quite obviously attempting to make a film in the tradition of new wave auteurs and independents like Godard and Cassavettes. To fault a film in one category for not living up to the conventions of another is akin to my complaining that a grapefruit doesn't taste much like watermelon or that a documentary about giraffes didn't have any wild boar in it. Do NOT buy or rent CK Express, expecting it to be just like a Tarantino film."