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sycasey 2.0

Chungking Express

Chungking Express?  

6 members have voted

  1. 1. Does Chungking Express go in the space capsule?

    • ✅ Oh, my dreams! It's never quite as it seems.
      2
    • ❌ All the leaves are brown, and the sky is gray.
      4


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Paul & Amy dream of 1994’s Wong Kar-wai romantic diptych Chungking Express! They look at Wong’s influence on modern auteurs like Quentin Tarantino and Barry Jenkins, trace a metaphor through the film for a Hong Kong in transition, and ask why it was considered “too MTV” by some contemporary critics. Plus: What does this film have in common with Final Fantasy VIII?

This is the second episode in our Couple Goals series; next week’s film is Groundhog Day! Learn more about the show at unspooledpod.com, follow us on Twitter @unspooled and Instagram @unspooledpod, and don’t forget to rate, review & subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher and Spotify. You can also listen to our Stitcher Premium game show Screen Test right now at https://www.stitcher.com/show/unspooled-screen-test, and apply to be a contestant at unspooledpod@gmail.com! Photo credit: Kim Troxall

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Cinephiles may be really into this movie, but I am not. Neither story is substantial enough to carry a film, and stringing them together just makes it longer. I can definitely believe that the director wrote each bit the night or morning before he shot it: it's underwritten. And it's considered a knock to compare movies to MTV because that arose for music videos, which were essentially advertisements for another product (albums). Fincher is a big name director now, but his movies aren't just glorified ads.

I don't think of the pairs as being "couples" in the usual sense. If Facebook had existed, none of them would have the status of being in a relationship. And Brigitte Lin's character doesn't seem especially lonely. She's just too exhausted to argue that much when some guy sits down and insists on talking at her.

I don't relate to supposedly universal experiences, but When Harry Met Sally worked for me in a way this does not. Maybe because it's funnier.

I thought the hair Faye found was clearly supposed to belong to the long-haired woman (waitress?) meeting with 663 later, and whom Faye holds up the hair to compare against.

Rather than being different from Hollywood depictions, Faye is very much a Manic Pixie Dream Girl: someone who only exists on film rather than in real life.

I'm with the NYT in rolling my eyes at a character (repeatedly!) talking to a dishtowel. That's basically his only distinguishing characteristic, and it hardly seems enough to merit Faye's obsession with him.

I think the best use of the Cranberries' "Dreams" in a movie might be in "Sound of My Voice" where Brit Marling's character is asked what songs they have in the future, starts singing that, and then says they attribute the song to some other person when someone insists it's not from the future at all.

 

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I love the movie a lot, but I had to vote no. I'm putting a VERY high bar on my votes. 

 

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This is definitely a movie where the whole appeal of it is in how it's shot, edited, set to music, etc. The stories/characters are very simple and stripped-down. So if you don't feel the style then you don't feel it.

This one captured me really well the first time I watched it. Subsequent viewings have been slightly down from that high, but still I think it's a really well-made film. I voted yes here, though I do have some hesitation in thinking that In the Mood For Love might be the more worthy entry. The argument for Chungking Express in the Wong Kar-Wai canon is that (1) it was the major worldwide breakthrough for WKW and (2) it captures a particular time and place (Hong Kong pre-China takeover) that might not be better captured elsewhere. Anyway, it's a close call.

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It is my understanding that Chinese lacks articles, so while it comes down to convention of translation, this is the first time I've heard Chungking Express refered to as The Chungking Express and for whatever reason that deviation kind of triggers the anal retentive part of my brain. (A little surprised Paul didn't see this in his early years. Maybe the difference of about four-six years, but this one was big when I was starting college. But then again, I think for any art house circuit film, no matter how big it is, it's still reasonable for someone to not see it, in reality).

Anyhow, echoing a segment of what Sycasey said, WKW is often held up as the style being the substance. His movies are often about the process of moving on (from something. usually love or the notion of love), and the style of the movie is the crucial and key part of evoking the emotional state of the character. As I've grown older, I just find myself less invested (not uninvested) in the particular moments of these characters lives. Something that has not held true for either Happy Together or In the Mood for Love. (And in terms of the style being the substance, Fallen Angels is WKW's most overtly stylized movie).  Which is to say, on that binary yes/no question, I'd find myself preferring any of his three following films more than this one.  But, eh, it's not bad. It's still quite good! I didn't rewatch it for the podcast, but I think I rewatched it during the pandemic unprompted. Unprompted, I say. 

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Interesting the division in results between here and the Facebook group. Both this and When Harry Met Sally each sailed through with a solid majority of yes votes there, but are being narrowly defeated here. (Granted, many fewer votes in this group than over there.)

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This is probably the easiest Yes vote for me yet: Chungking Express most definitely deserves a spot in the preservation space ship. Even Wong Kar Wai's "worst" films easily outshine their respective peers and I'd be more than happy if his entire work was included.

I loved the pulpy style of having a shorter tale play before the "main dish"; what a coincidence that this film came out the same year as Pulp Fiction. If they had decided to include the 3rd story (which became Fallen Angels) the similarities would be even more striking. But yeah, I loved how this film is really more Romance-noir than romcom, The use of inner monologuing, the score, atmosphere, frame composition, editing, etc., all combined with the rockstar production attitude all worked so well together to create a truly unique romance-adjacent genre.

That's not to say it doesn't have any comedy because this film is hilarious at times: 663 musing that his mysteriously rejuvenated dish towel is "still a very emotional towel" as it drips "tears" is so very good as is the notion that his girlfriend left him to sample other types of men after her eyes were opened from sampling new foods; something 663 did to himself. So perfect. The script is deceptively simple that way: it's clean and precise but chock full of so much charm and clever writing without drawing attention to how clever it is. It's even more impressive that the second story was written the day before and during shooting. That punk-rock filmmaking shines through in every aspect, right down to Brigitte Lin's ridiculous costume (I say that with love): inspired improvisations.

I have to say, I've always felt the term "manic pixie dream girl" to be quite dismissive and, frankly, misogynistic as the implications are that the character only exists to service a brooding man into bettering themselves, which is not true of this film at all. Yes, Faye is clearly eccentric but she also has her own life and motivations and, though this may sound like a knock (it's not), the character of 663 doesn't really go through any development. He doesn't have any lessons to learn or shortcomings to deal with. Just like all the other characters in both stories, their arcs are that they exist in this world and we just happen to see their brief interactions. It just feels like if a woman displays some eccentricities she's "manic" but if a man does the same (like by, oh I don't know, talking to inanimate objects, buying dozens of cans of expired peaches, running until you sweat so much that you can't cry, etc.) they're just funny, broken-hearted or brooding.

I don't want to go too long, but I obviously have to mention the masterful camerawork. A couple of moments that really stood out: the way the camera swings back and forth trying to keep up with Faye's mopping was just sublime to me for some reason, and the shot of 663 slowly drinking his coffee after Faye tells him about the letter left for him by the flight attendant. The stuttery slow motion effect coupled with the framing of the shot perfectly expressed every thought that 663 may have been having (and used to similar effect through the film). WKW is a master of expressing complex characters and emotions using little to no dialogue. it's quite impressive.

I feel kind of bad for not really getting into the first story much, but I don't want to ramble on and I think we all recognize that the second story is the real meat of the film. I don't mean to say that the first story is unnecessary, quite the opposite. The first story sets the tone and atmosphere in addition to being a very fun watch. I feel like I'm still selling it short because there is a lot to dive into but I'll leave it to Paul and Amy there.

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22 hours ago, hahmstrung said:

Even Wong Kar Wai's "worst" films easily outshine their respective peers and I'd be more than happy if his entire work was included.

Whoa now, My Blueberry Nights, is a tonal misfire.  I'd also like to see the non-Weinstein cut of The Grandmaster.  I want to know how the scene explanation titles, if they exist at all, read internationally.  Because the U.S. version felt dumbed-down in a way to that dragged the movie down (not to mention the actual edits used).

On 1/22/2021 at 6:41 PM, sycasey 2.0 said:

Interesting the division in results between here and the Facebook group. Both this and When Harry Met Sally each sailed through with a solid majority of yes votes there, but are being narrowly defeated here. (Granted, many fewer votes in this group than over there.)

Looking over there now, I don't even see the poll or discussion for Chungking Express, did you get a sense if the people voting have seen other WKW, this is a proxy vote for WKW as a whole, or even if amongst other WKW films, this one still really shines for people (voting)?  I think for the general level of me being positive on WKW and consider him an influential filmmaker in my early cinephile years, I think wrt to his other fans, I probably rank Chungking lower comparably (I use the fact that prior to the upcoming World of WKW blu-ray set that criterion is managing distribution in the US, the only WKW criterions were Chungking and ItMfL, I think).  I'm just trying to get a feel (out of curiosity).

ETA: I should really rewatch 2046. That's one that didn't land with me when I was younger, but viewers change as they age. I wonder how it'd play for me now. 

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49 minutes ago, ol' eddy wrecks said:

Whoa now, My Blueberry Nights, is a tonal misfire.  I'd also like to see the non-Weinstein cut of The Grandmaster.

Fair enough, that's the one film I've yet to see as it doesn't seem to be easily available the US. I didn't realize there were multiple cuts of The Grandmaster but I suppose that's not surprising considering WKW apparently continues to fine tune his films after release, like with the upcoming collection from Criterion. Too bad neither Blueberry nor Grandmaster are included.

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3 hours ago, hahmstrung said:

Fair enough, that's the one film I've yet to see as it doesn't seem to be easily available the US. I didn't realize there were multiple cuts of The Grandmaster but I suppose that's not surprising considering WKW apparently continues to fine tune his films after release, like with the upcoming collection from Criterion. Too bad neither Blueberry nor Grandmaster are included.

The US cut of The Grandmaster is less WKW and more pre-fall Weinstein doing a hack edit to shorten and dumb it down for American audiences (at least according to people who saw both versions).

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On 1/23/2021 at 6:00 PM, ol' eddy wrecks said:

Looking over there now, I don't even see the poll or discussion for Chungking Express, did you get a sense if the people voting have seen other WKW, this is a proxy vote for WKW as a whole, or even if amongst other WKW films, this one still really shines for people (voting)?  I think for the general level of me being positive on WKW and consider him an influential filmmaker in my early cinephile years, I think wrt to his other fans, I probably rank Chungking lower comparably (I use the fact that prior to the upcoming World of WKW blu-ray set that criterion is managing distribution in the US, the only WKW criterions were Chungking and ItMfL, I think).  I'm just trying to get a feel (out of curiosity).

Here's the link: 

https://www.facebook.com/groups/unspooledpodcast/permalink/1160376427753884

There's some questioning if this is the right WKW (or other film of its type) to send up (including from me), but mostly the yes votes just seem to be from people who love the movie.

 

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On 1/22/2021 at 10:03 PM, hahmstrung said:

the character of 663 doesn't really go through any development. He doesn't have any lessons to learn or shortcomings to deal with.

 

I'll agree on him. I think they're both badly written characters.

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if a man does the same (like by, oh I don't know, talking to inanimate objects, buying dozens of cans of expired peaches, running until you sweat so much that you can't cry, etc.) they're just funny

I think it was intended to be funny, although it wasn't actually funny.

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3 hours ago, FictionIsntReal said:

I think it was intended to be funny, although it wasn't actually funny.

My point was that we don't label a man as "manic" for displaying some eccentricities like we tend to do with women.

3 hours ago, FictionIsntReal said:

I'll agree on him. I think they're both badly written characters.

We'll just have to disagree on that one. I think they're both quite wonderfully written and they don't need the typical plot crutches to make them interesting.

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On 1/24/2021 at 1:04 AM, ol' eddy wrecks said:

The US cut of The Grandmaster is less WKW and more pre-fall Weinstein doing a hack edit to shorten and dumb it down for American audiences (at least according to people who saw both versions).

Heh, I'm looking at the copy I "acquired" years ago and it's 130 minutes, so I guess it's the Chinese version. Now I'm curious to see how they cut it for America. So annoying that they would do that. Looks like there's a UK cut, too, that's about 8 minutes shorter than the Chinese cut. I wonder what prompted the edit there.

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