Sunday, November 28, 2010

Wong Kar-Wai's Chungking Express (1994)

I saw this for the first time in Tokyo in '96 or so, and now it mostly brings back memories of the go-go '90s, of burgeoning Asian chic, of night in the world's biggest cities, and oh yes of my 20s, of innocence bruised but not yet broken, of that particular ennui that comes from spending too much time in both discos and used bookstores.

Or something like that. Another way to say it might be that at the time I was (probably) in love with Faye Wong, and it was a love that seemed both real and realistic; now I'm in love with someone flesh and blood, and Faye Wong in this movie strikes me as (duh) a cute cinematic construct: the kind of girl a young man might fall in love with. Tony Leung? Not so much...

But then, what do I know from Tony Leung? His character is largely a cipher in this movie. He's a policeman.

What's a policeman to Wong Kar-Wai? Here and in Days of Being Wild they seem to have a kind of iconic significance. Is it the anonymity - the tendency he gives them to hide in the shadows of their caps, and to identify themselves by their badge numbers? Is it that the authority makes them a shorthand for masculinity, of a particularly repressed variety? Is it something as simple and universal as the allure of a man in uniform - even when, like Kaneshiro Takeshi here, he doesn't wear a uniform?

(As with As Tears Go By, I find that the original Chinese title of this film, 重慶森林 or Chungking Jungle, gives it a specificity of place that the English version lacks. The outdoor escalator that provides such memorable visuals in the second half also dates the film - that is, it would have been a signifier of up-to-dateness in 1994.)

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