I watched this film weeks ago, I’ve just never got round to writing it up. (Originally I was going to watch Asoka which I’ve had on VHS for ages…except I discovered the copy I own has no subtitles, which was a shame as I really enjoyed the 20 minutes of it I saw before admitting that I had no idea what was happening.)
I’ve currently got a book out of the library on Hong Kong cinema, and it was an interesting chapter on Chungking Express that prompted me to seek the film out. The chapter talked a lot about how the films uses and deconstructs issues of consumerism and capitalism in pre 1997 Hong Kong. Considering what this and the obsession with sell by dates in the film says about the shadow cast by upcoming events on the story. Having watched the film, I can see, from a detached academic perspective that yes these issues are important to the film, but they don’t feel foregrounded, they don’t make up my lasting impression of the film. Which probably has more to do with Wong Kar Wai’s skill as a director, dealing with an issue without making the film all about the issue. To me the film is more about the way in which people lie to themselves, and to each other. How they either face that truth or run from it.
The film was made during a break in making Ashes of Time and from what I’ve read of the other film, couldn’t be more different if it tried (and perhaps that was partly the point). There’s a lightness and delicacy to the film, it deals with dreams a lot, feeling almost dreamlike itself and akin to dreams it has moments of darkness alongside it’s moments of grace.
Strangely this film made me want to visit Hong Kong more than any other film I’ve seen. The picture of Kowloon it paints isn’t a particularly romantic one or glamourous in the way cities are normally painted in films. Whether in neon tubing and dark alleys or late night takeaways or soft light filtering between buildings on streets criss-crossed by lines of washing. The city feels like a real place not a destination, ordinary people with dreams big and small, caught between cultures mixing and clashing (I particularly love the way it flips between languages at different points), danger and glamour made mundane by familiarity. Maybe it is actually a bit romantic, but more because it feels like a loving portrait of a city that somehow loves its flaws too?