Sunday, April 13, 2008
Thoughts on a Chinese Cult Classic
I have finally watched the much revered work of Wong Kar-Wai; Chungking Express. My reaction is a little scattered... much like the movie itself is, but I don't feel I can truly rate this film subjectively. So, before I begin to present my thoughts and feelings about this movie, I feel it's important to point out that there was a factor that lead me to become irrational in my rating of it, and also liked it less than I perhaps might have if that piece was presented differently.
It has happened to me several times, where I'll watch a movie, and find one character so obnoxious and downright unlikable, that it affects my opinion of the movie as a whole. It's a bad thing, I know, as an an all around bad movie one unlikable character does not make. And I'm not saying that the movie is all around bad...
Nonetheless, I'm very sensitive to such things. If I can't like a prominent character in any story I'm presented with, what else will hold my attention and sentiments for the work? After all, characters are what make or break a story on paper or on the screen. It is the writer's job to make his/her audience strategically route for or against a character... it's important to make the audience like your protagonists at least. You don't want someone to route for the monster to get one of your protagonists just because your protagonist is irritating.
In Chungking Express, I found one protagonist to be so obnoxious, I feel I missed half the true feeling that ought to be associated with this Chinese cult classic. I admit that my annoyance by this character is a bit odd, and perhaps even irrational, but it was my reaction-- that's the viewer's job; to react to the characters and story presented.
The character that annoyed me was Faye, a young woman with short pixiesh hair, a childlike innocence and one song she kept playing incessantly. The song is California Dreaming by The Mamas and the Papas, and I must say that I can no longer listen to that song without developing a nervous twitch, while seeing Faye bobbing her head and twirling around like a Woodstock hippie as she is preparing people's food at the lunch counter where she works. Aside from the song playing over and over again, she insists on playing it so loud that people must shout to speak to her over the counter, and despite the fact that she strains to hear them, she doesn't think to turn down the volume until the person speaking to her asks her to do so. This kind of behavior irritates me; this obliviousness to logic and courtesy. It irritates me no matter where I see it, and I definitely saw it in Chungking Express.
Luckily, Faye only irritated me for half the movie; the second half.
The first half of the film begins in typical Wong Kar-Wai fashion... with breathtaking cinematography, amazing colors and textures, and a compelling story that has nothing to do with Faye. In fact, the first half of Chungking Express is excellent.
The movie actually tells parallel stories, one of which involves a mysterious woman in a blond wig, working a dangerous job as a drug smuggler, and a gorgeous young cop who falls in love with her, not knowing much about her other than being a lonely woman he met at his loneliest and most vulnerable moment. The lonely cop narrates throughout this first story. He has recently broken up with his girlfriend and taken a hobby of eating cans of pineapple with a specific expiration date. The story is cute and endearing in a Wong Kar-Wai sort of way. Then suddenly, we are introduced to Faye, whom the lonely cop brushes past, and we are transported to a new story. Another lonely and vulnerable policeman, who then picks up the narration, and his character along with Faye's unfold in a an interesting "how we met" sort of story.
The policeman's character is interesting, and I was intrigued by his calm demeanor. He's someone whose girlfriend has just left him unexpectedly, and he still expects her to come back. He is lonely and waiting, and Faye seems carefree. He is drawn to her. They strike a strange friendship and things go from there. The second storyline is good, but it failed to draw me in because of its inability to present me with a full set of characters I would route for... I was only routing for the policeman, but for what, I'm not entirely sure. I certainly didn't want him to be hanging out with obnoxious Faye.
Overall, this is a good movie, but there was an annoyance that tainted half of it for me... but Chungking Express is still definitely a movie worth seeing for its style and Wong Kar-Wai signature touches. Perhaps if I watch it again my irrational annoyance won't be so prominent, but as a first impression, I felt compelled to describe the very thing that made my first impression of this movie less than stellar, if only for just half of it.