Friday, December 30, 2016

#587: Chungking Express

Directed by: WONG KAR-WAI
1994, TSPDT Rank #192

At long last, I have received my introduction to the work of Wong Kar-Wai with Chungking Express, his breakthrough film. Originally distributed in the U.S. by Quentin Tarantino's Rolling Thunder Pictures (a 1990s subsidiary of Miramax), it's quite a bit different than most of the films Quentin Tarantino has chosen to promote over the years. However, it is akin to Tarantino's Pulp Fiction (released the same year) in its brazen originality and playful approach to its material. Its two parallel stories are essentially about being alone in the crowd of a big city - a sentiment which is barely concealed behind a thin veneer of mock seriousness, dizzying camera movements, and blinding neon lights. The two lead characters are both young, perpetually heartbroken male cops, although they are rarely seen fighting crime or doing police work. Their main preoccupation seems to be wandering around the city, going about their daily routines in a daze, and daydreaming about their respective lost loves, while their potential new love interests are caught up in surprising dramas of which their male counterparts remain completely oblivious. Wong's portrayal of modern isolation and longing for connection is both stylish and disorienting - a sort of hyperreality which constantly turns the viewer's perception upside-down and inside-out. The closest American equivalent to Wong's work here is not Quentin Tarantino, but Charlie Kaufman - although even Kaufman has never been able to achieve the uniquely light touch that Wong achieved with this film, while still sustaining an idiosyncratic and existential mood at the same time.

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