'Chungking' is loopy, lovesick Hong Kong cops

June 21, 1996|By Carrie Rickey | Carrie Rickey,KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE

The Midnight Express, possibly the only fast-food joint in the world that can make you a Caesar salad and a chicken vindaloo, is to Hong Kong cops what Dunkin' Donuts is to their U.S. counterparts: a place to warm souls chilled by street crime. A place to chow down among familiar faces. A place where everyone knows your name and that you've just been jilted by your girl.

"Chungking Express," a lyrical and delightfully goofy study in romantic longing, is two stories about two cops who nurse their broken hearts on a diet of Midnight Express grub and wistful fantasies. Happily, reality intervenes.

Director Wong Kar-Wai's film should be called "At Twilight." The film is about transition; it's a meditation upon those Hong Kong citizens who are rebels without a country, caught between East and West in a polyglot culture more defined by the Seventh Fleet than by any one culture. The Midnight Express counter girl, Faye (played by Faye Wang, a Hong Kong pop star often likened to Madonna), serves up pork buns while dancing to a full-blast version of "California Dreaming."

"Chungking Express" is narrated by a cop identified only as Badge 223 (Takeshi Kaneshiro). His girlfriend, May, left him on April Fool's Day and he feels very much the fool.

In hopes that May will return, 223 performs sublimely silly rituals, too delicious to give away here. When they don't work, he wills himself to fall in love with the next woman who walks into a bar. This turns out to be a bewigged, trench-coated dame (Brigitte Lin), someone he should be apprehending for her criminal activities.

While their intimate-but-chaste encounter, which has something to do with the healthful powers of Caesar salad, cures 223 of May, he firmly rejects the Midnight Express manager's efforts to fix him up with Faye, the new counter girl.

There is a different cop in Faye's future, Badge 663 (Tony Leung), the subject of the film's second act. 663 is also newly jilted; the stewardess girlfriend whom he gifted with Caesar salads has flown away and sent back the key to his apartment, which Faye intercepts.

Prior to stealing the cop's heart, Faye, with her spiky hair and attitude, steals into 663's apartment to clean and rearrange things. Initially he is so consumed in his romantic grief that he believes the changes are because even his "possessions" are mourning the absence of the stewardess. If "Chungking Express" reminds you of "Pulp Fiction," it's no coincidence. It was Quentin Tarantino's influence that won the film U.S. distribution through Rolling Thunder.

"Chungking Express"

Starring Faye Wang, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Tony Leung

Directed by Wong Kar-Wai

Released by Rolling Thunder

Rated PG-13 (discreet sex, discreet nudity, drug trafficking)

Sun score ***

Pub Date: 6/21/96

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