DIRECTOR: WONG KAR-WAI
COUNTRY: HONG KONG 1994
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Christopher Doyle, Wai Keung Lau
MUSIC: Frankie Chan, Roel A. Garcia
CAST: Brigitte Lin Ching-hsia, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Faye Wang, Valerie Chow, Chen Jinquan
SUPER FEATURES: Shooting style makes this odd film.
This film has been hailed as a new style of the French New Wave, and at least, in Quentin Tarantino's words, is very much a reflection of Jean-Luc Godard and his pioneering work in the 60's and 70's. If so, at least the film is not as idiosyncratic as Godard can be, but it does have a few touches of the old master. The totally "reckless" shooting style, which creates a faster paced movement of the action, makes for a
film on steroids, that is hard to keep up with. Jean Luc Godard, always gave you a rest, by stopping the camera literally, as the action even
walked away from it.... in this film, there are no pauses, and there is no time for characterization, which was one of Godard's strong points,
and led to film makers like Mike Leigh, who do similar work with the camera.
So, is Chungking Express a good film?. As far as a pioneering piece of work, I would say no. Perhaps what it does best is display a society that is moving so fast that is on a crash course, when it comes to its own inner direction, and attempt at finding itself. The pace is dizzying, not to mention the ever continuous camera movement, that at times is actually nerve wrecking, and I believe takes away from the film.
Like the story of the film, the main character is shy and can not keep a relationship, all characters are restless and not ready for any kind of
relationships. He Quiwu has lost his girlfriend, who has left for someone better, presumably more fun than this guy anyway. And the girl that he
is beginning to like is a bit on the strange side, likes him, but like him, is also afraid of discussing things.
And then, there are the intrigues.... the film starts with a woman in a blonde wig, a killer, and it is as if this is not a part of the story, which is very Godard'ian, but in a way it is. The characters through out the film are in a world where "excitement" is lacking, and this woman is almost like a film symbol... she exudes the excitement, and takes it as it comes. We can only assume that when she lays down for a rest at He's apartment, that the end is near for her, or for the characters... that they have to eventually face the enemy, themselves, rather than the outside. She wakes up, tosses the wig, and we don't see her again in the film. And the story now focuses on He Quiwu, and his attempts at self analysis, and getting over his asking a girl he sees everyday at the Midnight Express cafe.
Other than the very typical French New Wave usage of names of places and people, this film is not that bad, but it is not for everyone. It is
a film maker's film, in that it goes through an incredible array of intuitive camera work, that is very difficult to keep up with, specially
American audiences with their canned style of entertainment. But the way it is shot, in blazing color, will add an element that Godard could
not do. By comparison, Godard's camera style is a slow crawl.
But like the Truffaut's and Godard's, that paid homage to the film noir, this film pays homage to the french heroes. It does so, however, in a
far subtler way than we care to notice, and one has to be a film enthusiast to catch on to it. The name of the cafe is Midnight Express, and it is a place where nothing happens, and lives just go by and get wasted. And the constant mention of California through a Mamas and the Papas
song that keeps repeating itself, as the only real image that the girl that works in the cafe has.
Not specially a great film, it does have a story, but it is hard to discuss per se. A security policeman, works his daily shift, and has lost his girlfriend. He goes through his "menopause" in trying to figure out what he did wrong, but in the process he fails to notice that someone has an interest in him. And he never notices that she has been in his apartment, and cleaned it, etc, etc. But a lot of this is hidden in the film's pace and shooting style, which, while exceptional, it still has not figured out how to make a complete film. Like a Godard, it has an edge that says "unfinished", or as Godard himself loved to say, " a work in progress ".
Unfortunately, this film comes off as unfinished for the audiences, and we do not seem to be asking for more. Godard films, kind of gave you a
"wow" and left you there. This film wants to make a serious move, but it seems to shy away from doing so. Perhaps it was just a nice piece of
fluff to do, that almost worked to perfection in the film maker's head, but not for this reviewer.
Please email me with questions and/or comments
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