Friday, September 10, 2021

Chungking Jungle (aka Chungking Express)

Every Possible Way

Wong Kar-wai's Chung-Hing Sam Lam [Chungking Jungle, aka Chungking Express, 1994/2019] (before the 2019 restoration an onscreen title in English announced "Chung King Express") is a film that can't be broken down in a traditional critical sense. It radiates the feeling of longing: a pop song. Faye Wong's rendition of The Cranberries' "Dreams," and the fetishistic return throughout to The Mamas and the Papas' "California Dreamin'," are touchstones that will forever mark the viewer of this first masterpiece of WKW, a faux anthology picture made of two stories, non-overlapping, that capture a moment in time (Wong exalts the fleeting moment-become-memory from film to film) when Hong Kong reached a cultural high-water-mark before the hand-over to mainland rule mere years later. 

For all its rushes there's something strangely melancholy about the film. I feel the same way about Days of Being Wild. Does that yearning feeling of 'those wonderful varied years' (the Chinese title of In the Mood for Love) come undissipated at the moment of release, say, the recognition that Tony Leung and Faye Wong love one another, and if so, why should this be? The film wants to have it two ways at once — perhaps the seed of the idea on Wong's part to break it up into a diptych. (Fallen Angels was originally to have supplied additional stories to the Chungking anthology.) It lends speed to the proceedings — two medium-length works back to back, perhaps a kind of corrective from the prolonged shoot on Ashes of Time, from which Chungking Express represented a respite! Wong's characters are always running a race against speed. (Kaneshiro rejects that a race is equivalent to jogging; this exercise should be done in private.) The 1 May 1994 expiration date on the cans of Del Monte pineapples looms; not only is (real-world pop singer) Takeshi Kaneshiro calling through the void to a woman, his missing May, he's also rushing to acquire as many of these expired cans as he's still able before they disappear to landfills — May-Day, his birthday. ("If someone could be canned, would they also have expiration dates?") Criss-cross: His double is the cool and conscientious Tony Leung, a police officer like himself; the 'cleaning burglar' (and real-world pop singer) Faye Wong's is drug-ring organizer Brigitte Lin done up in a blonde wig that updates the American 1940s femme fatale and predates Lynch's Laura Elena Harring. She carves her way through the improbable knots of the Chungking Jungle, that is Chungking Mansions (in that very Asian-specific sense of the word, i.e., clustered apartments, though not quite the upper-middle-class or upper-class manshon of Japan), and it's as though she owns the place... There's much to be said about this film but observations come in scoops. You can watch it five times in a row. There are two Mays — the one he loves and the other suggested to him at Midnight Express. Paul Thomas Anderson's new film is titled Licorice Pizza

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