Chungking Express, a film by Wong Kar-wai is filmed in loose, imprecise splashes of motion and colour. This element along with hand-held camera work are used to create an alluring portrait of Hong Kong in the 1990’s. The film, split into two sections involves two smitten cops along with two objects of desire (one a big-time heroin dealer in trouble with her boss, the other, a flaky waitress who mistakably gets hold of the keys to her admirer's apartment).The first cop, 223 has broken up with his girlfriend and as a result goes on to purchase a tin of pineapple with an expiration date of 1ST May each day for a month with the expectation that either his lover will return to him or their relationship will, like the pineapples, expire forever.
Meanwhile, cop 663 is also dealing with his breakup from his flight attendant girlfriend. He goes on to wallow by rarely making the effort to put on clothes and having short discussions with the furnisher in his apartment.There is specific focus on the element of power throughout Kar-wai’s film, The Chungking express. It becomes relevant that the majority of the characters are or just feel powerless over their anxiety towards change (whether it be change of their lives or the general evolution of the city, Hong Kong).
There is also a large emphasis on accepting and adapting to change. Faye is used in the second section of the film as cop 663’s facilitator for change.This comes about through 663’s fear of opening the envelope from his ex-girlfriend that holds the key to his apartment to avoid change. This anxiety ultimately powers Faye’s function in the film which is to bring 663 to the acceptance and realisation that change is going to happen and that it will be ok. Which is the message that I think Wong Kar-wai is trying to say about the city Hong Kong in general and its people, that it’s inevitable that change will happen, linking to the city reverting back to China from Britain during the Handover however it is going to be ok and resolved.
With the clever use of cinematography, visual references to change also occur. For example, 663’s flooded apartment (caused by Faye) is a clear illustration of her power and ability to alter his life for the better and for him to accept it and possibly even question himself and his better judgement along the way to fully adapt to his new way of living. Faye goes on to make small changes to cop 663’s life like; changing the colour of his flip-flops, adding family pictures to his walls and altering the labels in his cupboard.All of these incidents that involve a contribution from Faye are a message too from the director, Wong Kar-wai, clearly referencing the time and place of Hong Kong in the 1990’s and its current state involving the Handover and how the city is changing meaning the people are being forced to adapt to these changes, reflected by the characters in the film.
Identity is keenly noted throughout The Chungking Express and conflicts between characters and their identity becomes a strong, reoccurring theme.The idea that identities can be recycled and shared is repeatedly used by Wong Kar-wai. An example of this is cop 223’s soundtrack that is later used by 663. As well as this, at the end Faye becomes an air hostess and almost takes over the role of 663’s former girlfriend. Whilst Faye finds her new identity through this incident, cop 663 is found to have purchased the restaurant Faye used to work at and is also listening to her signature music. Faye’s identity has been recycled and now ‘belongs’ to 663.
This link to Hong Kong during this time could be that whilst everything around the characters is changing randomly without their consent or control, their identities may change too however this will happen without hesitance and will not be noticed as something significant. Won Kar-wai is almost telling the people of Hong Kong through the themes of this film to accept the new people that they will turn into due to the shifting of the city. Wong Kar-wai’s direction to the framing devices emphasises the confusion and randomness of the characters identities.His constant use of reflections and vertical framing helps the audience to interpret the change of the characters identities. Mirrors make for a visual confusion and could cause the audience to question whether what they are seeing is reality or simply a reflection. Vertical framing and multiple images of characters create an aesthetic view of characters identity and through film language visually portrays them as trapped within the change and confusion of the cities identity as well as their own.
The repeated theme of expiry helps Wong Kar-wai to emphasise the anxiety of the expected changes for Hong Kong in the 1990’s. His constant referencing to objects and arrangements ‘expiring’ is shown through his choice of props and framing devices. The pineapple that 223 buys is an example of this theme, as well as the plane ticket that Faye gives to 663 with an expiry date of a year from that point. This constant reminder of expiration reminds us of the countdown to 1997, the Handover to China.This fear of change is also reinforced through the element of the future and the fact that the narrator can see outside of the film and tell the audience that things will change for Hong Kong and therefore the characters’ lives also, highlighting the characters anxiety and fear of the change that they are all expecting however having to learn how to accept it.
The ending of Wong Kar-wai’s ‘The Chungking Express’ only underpins the elements referred to throughout the entire film, of change in Hong Kong in the ‘90’s, anxiety for this change as well as characters acquiring new identities.The end is not resolved and there are no major developments, it’s left to be interpreted. There are confirmed anxieties and contradictions throughout the film of where the characters want to be and in final sequence these contradictions seem to be interlinked when 663 almost surrenders to Faye and says “where ever you want to take me”, proving that with her help he has been able to accept his new life and the changes it bought and so we can now assume as the audience that he is ready to accept the changes of the city Hong Kong too.