Wong Kar Wai: Back-to-Back


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Adam Castro, Former Writer

Catchy pop tunes on a constant loop, saturated cinematography (thanks to Christopher Doyle), quirky characters lost in romance and indecision, off-beat storytelling and narration, familiar actors playing familiar roles, fluid hand-held cam, and poignant editing, Wong Kar-Wai is a Chinese film director internationally recognized as one of the most significant contemporary auteurs of the ’90s. Influencing other directors such as Barry Jenkins (Moonlight), Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation), and Nicholas Winding Refn (Drive), here are 2 films from his career that will guide you through the thematically connected dream world of Wong Kar-Wai.

Chungking Express (1994)

Chungking Express is about two slightly connected short stories; the first being about a cop (Takeshi Kaneshiro) having an eye for a mysterious blond woman (Brigitte Lin), who he does not realize is a drug trafficker- the other story is about a recently heartbroken cop (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai) who’s life is spiced up (without him being aware) by a waitress (Faye Wong) of a local cafe called the Chungking Express. 

The movie plays like an hour and 42-minute music video. No exaggeration, the film has no plot, and it’s 80% pop music, almost exclusively California Dreamin by The Mamas and The Papas. The characters, while fully realized, don’t actually develop.

Surprisingly, these are not issues at all. In fact, all these seemingly meaningless elements eventually become a pattern of memorable motifs in Kar-Wai’s films. The subtle parallels found in these hardly interconnected storylines are what makes these two stories as endearing as they are. Themes of loss, time, boredom, longing, indecision- this film is one of Kar-Wai’s most famous pieces of work. 

Fallen Angels (1995)

Fallen Angels is about another two slightly interconnected stories, this time darker in tone (but also sillier?) and more action-oriented in its first story; the film taking place entirely at night. The first story is of a hitman (Leon Lai) and his love-struck agent (Michelle Reis)- and another story about this mute criminal (Takeshi Kaneshiro) hustling for money at closed shops and helping a woman (Charlie Yeung) find another person only referred to as “Blondie”. 

Due to lack of budget, this film was originally meant to be the third story found in Chungking Express. Unlike that movie, however, the stories don’t just end abruptly. Instead, there is somewhat a conclusion in their relation to the other. The funny nods this movie has towards its predecessor is very fun to catch, and even enhances the viewing experience when watching back-to-back. This, and the song Only You by The Pickets make for the most satisfying ending in a movie you’ll see. Check out both and see which you find to be your favorite out of the two. 

Criterion Channel is a streaming service for all kinds of films from around the world- commercial or independent, up to you to try new things! There is a 14-day free trial available if you wanted to give these films a try in the best quality you can find them. The criterion is also releasing a Blu-ray collection including seven of Wong Kar-Wai’s films on March 23, 2021.