“…like watching a collection of thirteen year-olds talk about their latest crush.”
I finally got around to watching Chungking Express and it was not at all what I expected. Chungking Express tells the story of unrequited love from two perspectives via two completely different stories told concurrently, but it’s the way these stories are told that really make Chungking Express what it is.
Chungking Express is a very stylized movie. There is not one frame that is “traditional”; each one a victim of artistic vision. These stylistic devices add heart to what would otherwise be a pretty cut-and-dry movie. I don’t want to say that Chungking Express is only its appearance, but it plays a huge part.
One of these elements is the use of ‘undercranking’, the practise of filming at a slower frame rate then playing it back at the standard 24 frames, which was most popular in the silent film era. Undercranking provides the audience with a time-lapse of sorts, which really lends itself well to the themes of the movie. We see the world speed around these characters as they are almost completely stuck, and in this moment we understand how they feel. On top of looking cool it also helps convey these emotions to the audience.
The next technique is called step-printing, wherein undercranking is combined with duplicating frames to create an almost slideshow effect. This was also tremendously cool to look at, giving the world a very fast and disorienting feel, but unfortunately it made some of the movie hard to follow in my opinion. These scenes, usually where action was happening, were very disorienting and almost aggravating for that reason. I understand that this was most likely the intention as well as the fact that Chungking Express is not an action film, but regardless it did prove difficult to follow at times.
Where Chungking Express truly shines in my opinion is the dialogue. All of the characters are so beautifully melodramatic it’s like watching a collection of thirteen year-olds talk about their latest crush. This may sound like a dig, but honestly it might be the most realistic depiction of love I’ve seen in a movie. You feel as though your world has come to a a standstill. You create these bizarre coping habits that you know are completely insane, but you follow them regardless. These moments are brilliantly acted and written, showing the audience a very real look at the impact of love.
Now this is where I talk about what I didn’t like about Chungking Express. Yeah, that’s right, despite all of that praise this movie is dangerously close to the “dislike” category for me due to one simple reason: the story. Chungking Express sets up a story about a disheartened cop who is trying to mend a broken heart. This process is expedited when he meets, and then falls in love with, a drug-trafficker. This story is brilliant! It has intrigue, suspense, comedy, and also an abrupt ending. Just as suddenly as we were introduced to this story it comes to a close, never to be mentioned again. The film switches gears to a completely unrelated story, leaving us to wonder what happened with the first two characters. It feels disingenuous; like I was tricked. You can say whatever you want about how “real life doesn’t always give you complete endings” or whatever the fuck, but in a movie it feels completely slimy to set up a story like that and then completely change the focus. The first story was easily the stronger of the two which makes this move feel even more like a bait-and-switch.
Overall Chungking Express is a beautifully crafted film that conveys complex feelings of love and obsession in a way that is not only relatable but also pretty funny. It is a film steeped in style that immerses the audience as well as makes the film stand out amongst its peers. Unfortunately the story is lacking to an almost unforgivable degree.
I give Chungking Express a C