Like many people who count themselves a fan of movies, I have an extensive DVD collection, one that has been building for damn near eight years now. However, until recently, I admit that I’ve spent very little time exploring everything my collection had to offer me. Sure, I would watch the films; fact is, I’ve seen some of them as many as 15-20 times. But with the majority of my collection, this was as far as my curiosity would take me, leaving countless hours of commentary tracks and special features out in the cold. Over the past few months, I’ve been making a concerted effort to change this trend, taking the time to investigate everything that my various home video releases had to offer me. It has been, to say the least, an interesting experiment, and one that I am anxious to share with you over the coming months. To start this series off, I chose to sit down with a true classic, not to mention a release that itself has completely justified my decision to invest in a Blu-Ray player.
Wong Kar-Wai’s Chungking Express is a movie I fell in love with on the very first viewing, a film with a pulsating cinematic style that boasts, at its heart, four very vibrant characters. The truth is there’s a lot to admire about Chungking Express, yet what I personally found most fascinating was how the film took two similar stories (the love lives, or lack thereof, of two Hong Kong policemen) and told each in a completely unique manner, going so far as to delve into different genres from one story to the next. The first part of the film, which stars Brigitte Lin and Takashi Kaneshiro, boasts some exciting action sequences, and is very fast-paced. The second (longer) segment stars Tony Leung and Faye Wong, and is much more light-hearted, more comedic in tone. Yet what’s truly incredible is how both parts of Chungking Express make for such an entertaining whole, each styled in a way that there’s no mistaking these two distinctive segments belong to the same film. It is a wonderful marriage of genres, creating a work that is among the most unique I’ve ever seen.
I was thrilled when I learned that Criterion was going to release a version of this film, and even more so when the Blu-Ray was announced. If ever a movie deserved that “Criterion Treatment”, it’s this one, and while there aren’t nearly as many supplemental features included with Chungking Express as there have been with past Criterion releases, I can state without hesitation that what this version lacks in quantity, it more than makes up for in quality.
To start with, the High-Definition transfer, which was supervised by Wong Kar-Wai himself, looks tremendous. There were times when I was taken aback at how crisp the film looked. Next, there’s an audio commentary recorded by Asian cinema critic Tony Rayns. Admittedly, there have been times when the audio commentaries on past Criterion releases left me a bit cold, mostly because I felt the commentaries themselves were a bit cold, perhaps a bit too scholarly for their own good, and, though informative, seemed more like film class lectures than true analyses. Fortunately, Mr. Rayns avoids such pitfalls and comes across very naturally, relying both on his knowledge of Asian cinema and his familiarity with Wong Kar-Wai’s career to create a very informative, not to mention revealing, commentary track. Also included on this release is an episode from the BBC series Moving Pictures, which contains interviews with both Wong Kar-Wai and cinematographer Christopher Doyle (a doc that also features the director taking us on a tour of the film’s various locations). Finally, there’s the U.S. theatrical trailer, thrown in for good measure.
Another feature of Criterions past has been the inclusion of an essay booklet, and Chungking Express is no exception. Here, we’re treated to an essay by critic Amy Taubin, who (like others before her) believes Wong Kar-Wai owes a lot to the works of Jean-Luc Godard, drawing comparisons between Chungking Express and Godard’s 1966 film, Masculin Feminin. Again, this assertion is nothing new, yet Taubin still succeeds in composing a very interesting essay.
I’m of the opinion that Wong Kar-Wai’s Chungking Express is one of the finest films ever created, and kudos to the folks at Criterion for giving us fans that version of the film we’ve been waiting a long time to see.