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's 600th Review
Chungking Express
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Chungking Express

Tony Leung Chiu-Wai and Faye Wong in Chungking Express
Chinese: 重慶森林  
Year: 1994  
Director: Wong Kar-Wai  
Producer: Jeff Lau Chun-Wai  
Writer: Wong Kar-Wai  
Cast: Brigitte Lin Ching-Hsia, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Faye Wong, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Valerie Chow Kar-Ling
The Skinny: This breezy new wave motion picture from the beloved/reviled Wong Kar-Wai ranks as one of Hong Kong Cinema's most winning and lovely experiences. This is quite possibly the Webmaster's favorite film. Ever.
by Kozo:

Wong Kar-Wai's films have always been steeped in Hong Kong-specific genre. As Tears Go By was a triad drama, and Days of Being Wild was a spin on the "teddy boy" disaffected youth genre. Chungking Express is no different. The protagonists of the film are two cops. Cop 223 (Takeshi Kaneshiro), also known as He Qiu-Wu, is a plainclothes detective who chases bad guys around seedy Chungking Mansions in Tsimshatsui. Cop 663 (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai) is a uniformed constable who patrols around Central and the trendy Lan Kwai-Fong district. The film also has a criminal: Brigitte Lin Ching-Hsia as a blonde-wigged, drug-smuggling femme fatale who finds herself targeted for a rub-out.

But that's as far as the genre stuff goes. Despite these common signifiers, practically nothing you'd expect out of a cop action film occurs. There are a couple of chases, as well as a payback moment midway through the film, but the scenes play more like transitions instead of necessary plot development. What's more important are the character's inner lives. In Chungking Express, the standard genre character is fleshed out and humanized, and their inner struggles take on tremendous meaning. Wong Kar-Wai has created a Hong Kong cop thriller that's about the cops and not the thrills.

Cop 223 may snag a perp or two, but what's more upsetting to him is his ex-girlfriend May, who he's still pining over. Obsessed with expiration dates (on love, promises and even canned food), he feeds his heartbreak by ingesting expired cans of pineapple - which isn't a good thing. Promising himself that he'll love the first woman he sees, he runs into the tired Brigitte Lin, who's suffering her own sort of heartbreak. The match isn't made in heaven, and any sort of physical affirmation of emotion would be unrealistic, but their encounter manages something quiet and affecting. In a sense, their meeting and shared individual pain creates a minor, almost infinitesimal bond between them. The moment passes, but something quietly indelible remains.

Cop 663 has his romantic problems, too. Unceremoniously dumped by a lovely air hostess (Valerie Chow), 663 unburdens himself to his collection of inanimate objects: a stuffed bear, a bar of soap and even a wet rag. Unbeknownst to him, the cute, Jean Seberg-coiffed Faye Wong has silently fallen in love with him across the counter of the Midnight Express deli. Unable to overtly convey her affection, she contents herself with surrepitiously caring for him. She cleans his apartment, redecorates it, and quietly messes with his life. Whether or not he notices seems not to matter - it's just her personal expression of affection.

The individual is at the center of Wong Kar-Wai's movie. Everyone has their own private way of coping with loss and alienation, and how each character does it feels both uniquely odd and strangely familiar. Wong Kar-Wai isn't concerned with happy endings, romantic platitudes or universal truths. No UFO-style pearl of wisdom surfaces in his film. One can identify with the characters or they can find their individual quirks absurd. That's probably one of the unique joys to Chungking Express - that the characters' quirks can affect each and every viewer differently. Wong Kar-Wai doesn't tell you anything with the film. The moments in the film are opaque and seemingly unconnected, but beneath that the viewer just might find something revealingly personal and achingly real.

As you would expect from Wong Kar-Wai, the film is literally dripping with style, but it isn't over-the-top like his later Fallen Angels (the unofficial third chapter to Chungking Express) nor is it bombastic like Ashes of Time. Chungking Express operates with a quicksilver, almost effervescent vibe, where chances are found and connections made with one barely noticing. The camera (handled by co-cinematographers Christopher Doyle and Andrew Lau) moves constantly and sometimes gives in to jarring step-printing or strange slow/fast motion, but the moments are appropriate. It's those sequences that convey the interior/exterior experience of each character, be they the helter-skelter chaos of a chase or the noiseless isolation of sudden heartbreak. The style is alternately contemplative and breezy; it's like the French New Wave with a dash of MTV sprinkled in.

Chungking Express works on many levels. It's a stunning new wave "art film" that also succeeds as a bouncy pop-culture valentine to Hong Kong. It's an affecting exploration of personal heartbreak and a uniquely cosmopolitan take on urban alienation. And, probably most affecting of all, it's a marvelous demonstration of love in and of the cinema. Chungking Express seems to tell us that love and its chances could be just around the corner and out of sight. As much as the film explores the frustration of heartbreak and unrequited love, it also hints at the promise of something magical. Movies can both show and create emotion, and Wong Kar-Wai was able to do both with remarkable dexterity. Even more, he did it in a way that only the movies could - through camera, sound and space, and not through spoken dialogue or printed epiphanies. All the powers of cinema are at work in his understated little masterpiece. Chungking Express might even remind some people of why they grew to love movies in the first place. (Kozo 1995/2002)

Notes: Chungking Express was released theatrically in the United States by Miramax and Quentin Tarantino's Rolling Thunder Pictures. In a move that WOULD NOT be trendsetting, the film was given a respectful release, and not cut or dubbed. In fact, additional scenes were added for the US release.
Awards: 14th Annual Hong Kong Film Awards
• Winner - Best Picture
• Winner - Best Director (Wong Kar-Wai)
• Winner - Best Actor (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai)
• Winner - Best Editing (William Cheung Suk-Ping, Kwong Chi-Leung, Hai Kit-Wai)
• Nomination - Best Actress (Faye Wong)
• Nomination - Best Supporting Actress (Valerie Chow Kar-Ling)
• Nomination - Best Screenplay (Wong Kar-Wai)
• Nomination - Best Cinematography (Christopher Doyle, Andrew Lau Wai-Keung)
• Nomination - Best Art Direction (William Cheung Suk-Ping)
• Nomination - Best Original Film Score (Frankie Chan Fan-Kei, Roel A. Garcia)
Golden Horse Awards
• Winner - Best Actor (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai)

Region 1 NTSC
Criterion Collection
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Original Language Track (Cantonese and Mandarin)
Removable English Subtitles
Digitally Remastered, Audio Commentary
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc

    DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Mei Ah Entertainment
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Original Language Track (Cantonese and Mandarin)
Dobly Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
Digitially Remastered
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc
image courtesy of Buena Vista Home Video Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen