Sun. Jun 23rd, 2024

The Defining Hong Kong Cinema of 1990s

With almost three decades on, one can consider the Chungking Express the defining dream of Hong Kong Californication. It can be said to be state-of-the-art. The film grips the audience’s imagination by presenting two separate stories that simultaneously tell a story of loss and love with affective subtlety. The film’s message is excellent because it is one that the audience all knows. It is about how life goes on regardless, and loss accompanies love. Wong Kar-wai explores romance in a big city using specific material elements. The elements seek to communicate ideas and explore each character’s role, which progressively escalates into human relationships from the synaptic point.

Hong Kong comes to life in the first opening sequence, towering above the characters and directing the audience towards a more significant concept. It is about how the characters find an emotional connection in a sea of people, about a city that is so tied to material things. The film is a Masculin Féminin 1990s, according to Taubin in her essay entitled Chungking Express: Electric Youth. In addition, the film became a pop-art film about excellent twenties looking for love in the city. It has replaced Paris as the imaginary center of the cinema world. On the other hand, what Wong did to Hong Kong’s restless, disconcerting youth, predates handing him over to China. The film is one of the first films where the generation gap instills a sense of distance mixed with tenderness. It focuses on a dominant issue of heterosexual maturity.

Two Meditations of Narrative

As well as containing tons of features, it is a meditation that Kar-wai lovingly composes about heartbreak. It also acts as an opening of the audience’s heart back to the world. The film packs a beautiful image with glowing pink lemonade by being a lush show. The camera keeps circling in a jukebox. The prismatic color shimmer looks like a swirl of fire. However, the film becomes a cute love story, playing with genre conventions by pitching a film-noir-style cartel. Apart from the femme fatale, such a depiction of perfect deconstruction tells two different stories.

Both are stories about a heartbroken Hong Kong cop who often visits the same restaurant. In the first story, Cop 223 tries to overcome despair by continuing to buy cans of pineapple that will expire on May 1. May 1 is the cop’s birthday and marks the date that tells the breakup story. He eventually becomes enamored with drug dealers in blonde wigs. They end up spending drunk, sexless nights together. In the second story, his girlfriend dumps Cop 663. Finally, a new girl who works at the restaurant he always stays at catches his attention. When his ex drops his apartment key, the new girl uses the key to break into the apartment. She always cleans the apartment for him.


Chungking Express shows both parts of the dream through style and Californication shifts. The first part describes a city full of calm and overcrowded people. The film acts as a tone poem about the metropolis and society, apart from its foreign setting where the audience sees America’s trappings in every corner. In essence, the audience sees a city whose international products colonize the city. On the other hand, the soundtrack also reflects such things—the bar where the dealer serves a Mexican beer. A classic reggae song on the jukebox also plays the logo and a dream-pop campus radio in another scene.

Broadly, the cinematography uses slow-mo, freeze, and speed-up effects (like most Kar-wai films) for a stunning effect at the beginning. By placing the two protagonists as silent stones, the world in the heads of each character on the street is in a yellow light but is hazy and dissolving. Apart from sweeping the Hong Kong Film Awards, the film also did well at the box office. In America, audience numbers were disappointing as the film became a presentation of Tarantino and his Rolling Thunder. Therefore, America is at a loss as to whether to market the film as an arthouse or an Asian exploit. Regardless of which, the flamboyant combination of filmmaking and sad romance does not hold up for the sake of cinema.

An Enigmatic Auteur

Personally, Chungking Express built the director’s dream as the most glamorous and enigmatic Californication. It is not surprising that many cinephiles, artists, and even young people make Kar-wai films the new mecca of the film world. By marking a turning point in his work, the film’s shift in direction shows. The chaotic underworld revenge narrative is fading. It replaces a simple love story with a delusional one. Therefore, people have always pawned the liberation of Kar-wai’s feelings as the modern version of Godard. Godard was born within the framework of the American gangster film, limiting his expression in his relevance to a world not centered on filmmaking. On the other hand, Kar-wai makes the same step in the film by underlining the separation in the film’s middle.

In the first part, there is a woman and her drugs in trouble. However, the whole part of the Kar-wai story is left unclear. The audience might never be sure why Lin fell out with a gang of Indian smugglers. In a neat sequence, the audience saw cobblers insert coke bags inside the heels of the shoes. On the other hand, the crab courier quietly walked out of the bathroom. In such a sequence, a white man at a reggae bar with such a thing for the sake of a Chinese woman wearing a blonde wig. It might be because she was behind the smuggling of cartel dogs. In detail, the film is loose. The chase scenes and shootouts between the characters are light and consequence-free. After all, Kar-wai uses the stereotype of a femme fatale and a dark but shining noir, using it as the basis for the initial narrative.


In the second part, the film omitted the ornament order. It gets slower but becomes more romantic. The yellow color dominates the first part, while the blue color dominates the second part. While in the style of an indie rom-com of the 2000s, the subplot changes between the protagonists. It is a strange but beautiful, caring, and romantic story. Regardless of the type of fear behavior, it makes the audience reach the restraining order in real life. The union of the two parts tells the story of heartbreak, seeing the film that discusses the subject subtly. Most films, in general, abbreviate parting with a weeping montage. The second part fills its city by putting people devouring ice cream.

The film becomes a rarity, showing a different but proper perspective on life about lost romance. It shows how lethargic and aimless the audience is after a breakup. The end of a relationship is also the end of the unifying pattern and routine. In everyday life, it shows that the greatest danger to romance is the change in narrative. Thematically, they are two separate stories where each has its central location. However, in the first story, the film recalls the action elements of the director’s first feature genre, namely As Tears Go By. The second part describes the romantic longing in the style of In the Mood for Love and Happy Together. According to Kar-wai, it became a hyperbolic mix of gangster violence.


Unusual as the audience imagined, it is not only because of the close-up of the lens that often turns the femme fatale cast and even male characters into fruit noses. Regardless of which, the director’s reputation as an arthouse mecca partially lays down three operatic romances. Therefore, films with such a genre have never been entirely accepted by the audience as art film canons. Partly because the director’s mastery of sensual polyrhythms serves as a lush aural, visual texture, granted, it was not fully developed in his prior films. However, at a minimum, every part of the film focuses on a cop who falls in love and misses his ex-girlfriend until another woman grabs his attention.

The protagonist of the first part is a plainclothes cop, Cop 223, who is seen running fast in the opening chase scene. He always marks the countdown days by buying a pineapple can in the first place, informing the audience in voiceover. The characters in the film are obsessed with routines to patterns. Change is the enemy and killer of love. Cop 663 decided to replace the protagonist at a specific moment, bringing him a different dish. He finally explores his options as if giving his girlfriend a different dish. The problems that plagued Cop 223 also started his ex to dump him. At first, he did not want to change his daily routine. He still calls his family to check and greet them. He still thinks about calling her first every time such a good thing happens to him, bringing a pager.

The Political Context

Watching the film makes many audiences think about such anxiety reflecting the social media experience. As Lin told Cop 223, what is the point of liking pineapples and what is the benefit of getting to know people. At the vantage point, the location of the heart is in the film. The fear of change paralyzes the two cops, Lin’s character, and Faye must accept the change. They have to get rid of the patterns that keep them trapped. For Cop 223, they eat all the pineapples that have expired. They have a platonic encounter with a strange woman at a bar, showing him life beyond his ex. On the other hand, Cop 663 accepts that his girlfriend is not back and quits his job as a police officer, opening him up to a new opportunity.

Everyone at Chungking Express has learned to accept the Californication dream. For people every character loves, they could have an expiration date. However, that is okay because there will be every cuter person waiting in the wings of every character. While hovering above the association network, another countdown occurred. Anxiety about the romance comics in 1994 was at the forefront of deeper fears. Regardless of political freedom, the whole way of life has an expiration date shortly. The most notable difference between the characters is the constant political chatter in the former. The total absence in the latter reflects the changing culture of youth from the 1960s to the 1990s. However, that does not mean Kar-wai is a passive director.


On the other hand, Wong Kar-wai smuggled politics into his films through metaphors like filmmakers in new waves. In addition, another impressive quality of the film is how both female characters deny the dreamgirl trope. Both characters are more whimsical but passionate about their respective male characters. A pixie woman listens to The Cranberries’ Dreams all day long. However, unlike the overly cute romcom crap of the modern age, their characters are not just there to keep special male characters out of the way. After all, each male character has a real problem at heart. Chungking Express becomes a dream of Californication for the audience to watch repeatedly.

By being a beautiful film, it grows more resonant with time, like watching In the Mood for Love. The film continues to be in the minds of every audience. Some aspects of the film’s melancholic beauty, in such a way, stem from missed connections. Whether it is about crazy love or a dreary romance, couples with little chance begin to overwhelm the sweetness of the bitter. The scene’s center quickly saw the significant changes shooting the film quickly and slowly. In the end, the film tastes sweeter than bitter. The tone of long-term hope and feeling determines the success of brokenhearted young people. Kar-wai reflects a beautiful face and sad eyes in the neon light of the ever-changing and beautiful city.


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