Film Follies, Subtitle Subversive

Subtitle Subversive-Chungking Express

Most of the time when I’m going to sit down to watch a movie I have a general sense of what the movie is going to be about and what kind of mood it’s going to leave me in. Not that I cheat and look up what a movie is about before I see it but generally I’ve seen the film’s trailer somewhere or heard about it through a recommendation that gave me an impression of what to expect. Today’s Subtitle Subversive post is about a film which has been on my radar for a while that still managed to catch me completely by surprise: Chungking Express.
The film is effectively a double feature, telling back to back stories about Hong Kong police officers attempting to get over bad breakups. I went into the film knowing its name, that it focused on a couple of Hong Kong cops, and was released in the 90’s to immense critical praise. What I was expecting was a visually-stunning, stylistic crime movie. To be fair the movie is that in a way, at least for the first part, but it is, by and large, an entirely different kind of film. And I couldn’t be happier.
I mentioned the visuals already so let’s start there. Director Kar-Wai Wong uses natural lighting and hand-held cameras to give the film an authentic quality. You feel like you are right there living in this tiny little corner of Hong Kong with these characters. At one point one of the actors flops on the bed and accidentally kicks the camera. The cameraman simply moves the camera back a few inches and the scene continues on as if nothing has happened. And it works. Rather than being frustrated with poor production values and wondering why they wouldn’t just do another take the whole thing just accentuates the quirkiness of the scene in question.
But while the chromatography may be this film’s signature it is not its heart. That title goes to the film’s four stars, who play their respective roles with an earnestness that brings an otherwise ho-hum story to life. I challenge you to make it through its hundred-plus minute run time and not develop a personal attachment to at least one of these four.
Chungking Express is not a feel-good film in the traditional sense but I can almost guarantee that you will feel good after you’ve seen it. Perfect for a rainy night in by yourself or with someone special. It’s not very subversive and it doesn’t even require subtitles all the way through but it is an unexpected delight that showcases the signature visual style of 90’s Hong Kong Cinema. Enjoy.

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