- A- Community Grade
In the Hong Kong of Chungking Express, nothing stays put. Crowds pulse through streets lit by the glow of convenience stores, and lined with fresh fruit and questionable electronics. Diners eat on the run, often from stands like the Midnight Express, a friendly establishment that wraps salads and fish and chips in aluminum foil as if they were interchangeable, and already well on their way to being trash. The environment's constant reminders of the impermanence of all things can take a psychic toll on its residents: "When did everything start having an expiration date?" asks Takeshi Kaneshiro, the first of the film's two lovelorn cops, while looking at a can of pineapple that's taken on symbolic meaning for him. Later, he'll learn the hard way that wishing things wouldn't change doesn't work with fruit any better than with romance.
Shot during a break in post-production on Wong Kar-wai's troubled, long-in-the-making kung-fu abstraction Ashes Of Time, 1994's Chungking Express feeds off the city's energy, bringing an improvisational brio to its twin tales of policemen falling in and out of love. For Takeshi, heartache brings a chance encounter with a mysterious woman in a blonde wig (Brigitte Lin, in her last role before retirement). For Tony Leung, a painful breakup attracts the attention of a fetching Express employee (pop singer Faye Wong) who begins sneaking into his apartment to clean and make improvements without him noticing.
Neither plot develops much beyond those basic elements. Instead of incident, Wong, his cast, and simpatico cinematographer Christopher Doyle rely on meaningful repetition to tell the story. The first section has a tragic gravity that Takeshi remains too lovestruck to see. The second bursts with the possibility of a flirtation that could just as easily burn out as catch fire. In both, love drives characters mad while also providing the only anchor in the chaotic environment of Hong Kong—which, three years before its takeover by mainland China, was dealing with an expiration date of its own. Chungking Express helped establish Wong's international reputation with its youthful energy and vibrant depiction of a city where the 21st century arrived early, but it's his characters' quest for permanence and love amid chaos that makes the film's neon heart glow.
Key features: A typically thorough commentary by Tony Rayns. Just as importantly, Criterion's first foray into Blu-Ray suggests that the company's reputation as the Cadillac of home entertainment will continue into the high-def era.