Chung King Express

directed by Wong Kar-wai

Review by Gary W. Tooze

To free his mind from production and editing of the epic swordsman film set in ancient China, 'Ashes of Time', director Wong Kar-wai took some time out to write and direct a roller coaster ride of life's pivotal moments colliding through romance, emotion, fateful meetings and memories. Infused with kinetic camerawork and charmingly hip high spirits, he called it 'Chung King Express'.

A few times in life you have quintessential moments that you only reflect on in memories unaware at the time of their significance in your life. Chung King Express is filled with these rare occasions, so crucial that they are recognized by us the viewer, if not by the characters acting out their own narrative.

Set in Hong Kong with four characters and two separate tales (aptly called Part 1 - 'Chung King House' and Part 2 - 'Midnight Express' ). The two stories have a few links; the small Hong Kong snack bar of the second title, and that two of these characters are lovelorn cops, who we know as Badge 663 (Tony Leung) and Badge 223 (Takeshi Kaneshiro). Also, both the female characters in the film appear allured by western culture, one a drug dealer (played by Brigette Lin), the other a flighty, mysterious waitress in the snack bar (Faye Wong).
Badge 223 expresses the innocent, unflagging hope that his breakup with the never seen ex, who we know only as May, is a temporary situation. He gauges the time till he deems it officially concluded by expiry dates on tinned pineapple. He resolves the closure by devouring a months worth and promptly throwing up. He waxes philosophic comparisons to memory and expiration dates of food prompting the tagline: "If my memory of her has an expiration date, let it be 10,000 years...".
A charismatic Chinese superstar of over 100 films Brigitte Lin dawns a wig and sun glasses making Chung King Express her final film. Often compared to Greta Garbo she simply quit the business. Her drug dealing character flirts with a dangerous lifestyle and involves herself in a shoot-up with a group of Indians before making a casual and brief entrance into Badge 223's life. She serves as a fitting and memorable distraction for him on his 25th birthday.

Faye Wong is the biggest pop-star in Asia and Chung King Express was her first film. She steals the show completely. As Quentin Tarantino remarks in the extras wrap-up on the DVD, he doesn't know anyone that didn't develop a huge crush on her after watching this film. Her cute and complex character sneaks into Badge 663's apartment everyday to clean it up and make subtle decorating changes often while bouncing around to the music of 'California Dreamin' or her own version of the Cranberries "Dreams". Being an officer, Badge 663's lack of observational skills only seem to endear this bizarre escapade to us.

Wong Kar-wai clearly rejects the structured approach of other Hong Kong film styles and has made bold steps as an Asian "New Wave" auteur, often being compared to Godard. Shots blurred with smoke-filled poor lighting, bustling activity and neon signs as a backdrop, he spins a fresh, seductive and often unpredictable film. It is never directionless, although stylistically giving that impression. He appears to have made the exact film he intended, but many will reject this as an experiment gone awry. Personally, I loved the obsessive nature of the characters and the fun, artistic feel that seems impossible to put into terms. Masterpiece, maybe not... but daring and unique - positively.

I find much trouble rating the film, as I am aware of the disparaging viewpoints regarding it... but still feel it worthy ofout of . It is just so cool.

When Tarantino and Miramax announced the formation of a new distribution company called Rolling Thunder, Chung King Express was their first chosen film.

Tarantino gives a short prologue and post film notes, admitting in interviews to crying while watching it... only because "I'm just so happy to love a movie this much.'' I can associate, seeing this as a defined example of a film buff's film.

FILM and DVD Details 

The new Rolling Thunder Region 1 DVD is better than the HK Region 0 for picture quality and sound, but still a far cry from perfect although sporting an anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer. There are numerous visible cue blips and hairs affecting the picture quality at the beginning but the sound is quite clear throughout. Neither affect the enjoyment of the film and Tarantino's comments prove nothing more than fanboy-ish with a couple of neat anecdotes thrown in. There are a number of trailers for other Rolling Thunder efforts and two trailers for this film; a domestic and international one. Overall I give it a thumbs up and out of .
Complete credited cast: 

Brigitte Lin .... Woman in blonde wig 
Tony Leung Chiu Wai .... Cop 663 
Faye Wong .... Faye 
Takeshi Kaneshiro .... He Zhiwu, Cop 223 
Valerie Chow .... Air Hostess 
Chen Jinquan .... Manager of 'Midnight Express' 
Guan Lina .... Richard 
Huang Zhiming .... Man 
Liang Zhen .... The 2nd May 
Zuo Songshen .... Man 

Also Known As: 
Chungking Express (1995) (USA) 
MPAA: Rated PG-13 for some violence, sexuality and drug content. 
Runtime: 97 / USA:102 
Country: Hong Kong 
Language: Cantonese / Mandarin 
Color: Color 
Certification: Finland:K-12 / Portugal:M/12 / Spain:13 / UK:12 / USA:PG-13 

Technical Information

Release Information:
Studio: Miramax
Theatrical Release Date: March 8, 1996
DVD Release Date: May 21, 2002
Run Time: 102 minutes
Production Company: Buena Vista
Package Type: Keep Case

Aspect Ratio(s):
Widescreen anamorphic - 1.85:1

Discographic Information:
DVD Encoding: Region 1
Layers: Dual
Available Audio Tracks: Cantonese
Available subtitles: English

Edition Details:
Region 1 encoding (US and Canada only)
 Color
Original Hong Kong Trailer
Quentin Tarantino Introduction
Quentin Tarantino Wrap
Widescreen anamorphic format

 

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