Chungking Express (1994)
Reviewed by: STSH on 2001-03-12
Summary: The most over-rated movie in HK history
.. though not necessarily the worst film ever made in HK. I've heard from many people who wax lyrical and rave on about what a wonderful and transcendant experience this film is for them. Unfortunately, few if any of WKW's fans seem able to imagine, much less admit, that his films are not for everyone.

There is one key word which describes this film to its core - irritating.

WKW's style contains several elements guaranteed to send some movie fans screaming in agony or gasping in disbelief. I happen to be one of these people. Chief among these annoying features (which his fans refer to in more flattering terms) is hyper-repetition of songs and tunes. In the first half, a really dull reggae tune is played about three times (when once is too often). But in the second half, The Mommas And The Papas "California Dreamin'" is played at least seven times, usually at top volume. Godsakes, whether you liked the song or not beforehand, you'd be thoroughly sick of it by the end. Just think, some people claim to have seen this film four or five times. This means they've listened to California Dreamin either 28 or 35 times.....

First warning - if this sort of thing annoys you as much as it does me, you're very unlikely to join the ranks of that noisy and passionate minority who adore WKW.

All of this needless hyper-repetition (it contributes nothing to the story) could possibly be excused if the remainder of the film had any lingering merit, or if the story was in any way involving.

But it ain't.

The only aspect I found likeable was Brigitte Lin's charging around and still playing Asia The Invincible in a raincoat and sunnies. Even this wore off fairly quickly.

I'm sure this film's undeserved high reputation will convince many poor suckers to go and see it. I can only warn you - if you've never seen a HK movie before, don't start with this one. And if you feel compelled to watch it, avoid at all costs seeing it in a cinema. The fast-forward and mute buttons are essential tools for survival here.

You may well be one for whom this film is a transcedent experience. An inordinate nnumber of people seem to find this film does things to their mind such as this. But for the rest of us, even the aid of mind-altering substances wouldn't make this annoying and over-hyped piece of trash interesting.

You have been warned !

For a far better example of what WKW does well, watch ASHES OF TIME. It is stunningly photographed, has truly beautiful music (which, for once, is not hyper-repeated) and is even acted quite well by an excellent cast. The story is pretty convoluted, but has some interesting resonances. After surviving ChungKing Express, watching AOT offers proof that WKW does, after all, have some talent.

Previously published review:
If this film had been released without fanfare, I'd have been unsure of whether to describe it as uneventful and dull, or arty and pretentious, or plotless and infuriating. But, in the face of near-unanimous critical acclaim, I must loudly protest ! This is possibly the most over-rated film EVER in HK history. It has nothing to recommend it, and much to condemn. Heading the list is the director's brutal misuse of "background" music (often foregrounded), most notably the unforgivable and unjustified hyper-repetition of "California Dreamin'" (eight times). Whether you love or hate this song, any true music lover should be prepared to strangle director Wong at the end for this alone. The actors show little interest in injecting any life into their pallid characters, with the exception of Brigette Lin, who continues to play Asia The Invincible. The script looks as if it were made up as they went along, and has no sense of continuity or plot. Not that this is unusual in HK cinema but, here, it works against the grain. Most disappointing of all, this film contains not one element of anything I like about HK cinema. Aside from the Chinese faces, it could be any dull arty film made anywhere. So, I hear you ask, is there nothing you liked
? Well, some minor things. Brigette Lin's stop/slow motion chase scene was pleasant to watch, and has been endlessly homaged since (e.g. in Young & Dangerous). But why critics have called this an original device is beyond me. Is their knowledge of classic Hollywood style so poor? Ultimately, if you're inclined to believe those who use words like "landmark" "innovative" "classic", all I can say is, hire the video (do NOT see it in a cinema unless you are very brave) and see for yourself ..... that thousands of critics speaking with one voice CAN be very much mistaken. You have been abundantly warned.
Reviewer Score: 1