Streaming Wars: Wong Kar-wai’s “Chungking Express” Is Still Swoonworthy

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In Sight and Sound magazine’s once-a-decade poll of the greatest movies of all time, Wong Kar-wai’s Chungking Express (1994) recently rocketed from 144 to 88 on the list. It should have been a moment of celebration, but plenty of Wong fans probably wondered: Why wasn’t it even higher?

Famously championed by Quentin Tarantino, Chungking Express plays like a gleeful assault on screenwriting manuals everywhere. Only a filmmaker as audacious as Wong would essentially tell the same story—heartbroken Hong Kong cop finds new love—twice in one movie, creating revelatory new harmonies by playing a familiar melody in a new key.

The first half of the film stars Takeshi Kaneshiro as Cop 223, whose brooding over his ex-girlfriend is at once tragic and comical, leading to an obsession with expired cans of pineapple and jogging. (“The body loses water when you jog, so you have none left for tears,” he explains.)

While Kaneshiro is a melancholy delight, Chungking Express arguably ascends to masterpiece status in its last half, set largely at the Midnight Express take-out food stand where Faye (Faye Wong, aka “the Chinese Madonna”) works. It’s there that she falls in love with Cop 663 (Tony Leung Chiu-wai), the film’s second lovelorn officer.

Like a flirtatious fairy godmother, Faye woos Cop 663 by sneaking into his apartment and giving his life a makeover. She puts out a clean tablecloth, leaves a fresh bar of soap in his bathroom and even rearranges his impressive collection of giant stuffed animals (and, presumably, inspires the future schemes of Amélie Poulain).

What an idea: that true love is being attuned to the smallest details of a person’s life. Faye may be shy around Cop 663, but she communicates by caring. There are none of the expected emblems of romance in Chungking Express—no bouquets, no rings—but there is Faye standing in Cop 663′s doorway, holding a plastic bag of new fish for his tank.

In time, Cop 663 begins to understand how lucky he is that out of all the doorways in Hong Kong, she picked his. And when she asks, “Where do you want to go?” he answers the only way a sane man could: “Wherever you want to take me.” HBO Max.

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