Sunday, 19 November 2017

FM4 - Urban Stories: Chungking Express

 Urban Stories - Chungking Express

Wong Kar-wai is seen as one of the filmmakers able enough to capture the postmodern qualities of contemporary cities such as Hong Kong. Ping-kwan posits that in Chungking Express Wong Kar-wai creates a postmodern pastiche out of different parts of the city, but because the names refer to real places they reconstitute the cinematic city from its parts –
a postmodern pastiche of Chungking Mansion in Tsimshatsui and a fast-food place called Midnight Express in the Lan Kwai Fong area in Central. The pastiche of the names of places in the title, like the pastiche of the two unrelated stories in the film, helps us to blur geographical divisions and discredit referentiality. Yet the use of the actual names of these two places, as well as the sensitive lingering of the camera and the attention to details in art direction, also redirect our attention to the specific urban sites in Hong Kong.
Read more about Hong Kong and 'Chungking Express' in chapter 4 pg.94. Also useful for Film Noir and French New Wave.


FM4 - Urban Stories: Chungking Express

First and foremost, Chungking Express is about relationships in an urban environment. The Hong Kong that we see in Wong's film is a densely populated, multi-national environment that influences the characters. He said, "I think a lot of city people have a lot of emotions but sometimes they can't find the people to express them to. That's something the characters in the film share. Tony talks to a bar of soap; Faye steals into Tony's home and gets satisfaction from arranging other people's stuff; and Takeshi has his pineapples. They all project their emotions on certain objects."

For all of its stylish camerawork, Chungking Express is ultimately a film about human behaviour. One of the joys in watching this movie is seeing how these characters interact with one another. How they act and react to what each other says and does. The film holds a hypnotic spell over the viewer as they get sucked into these characters' lives and begin to care about them. As one character observes, "But for some dreams, you'd never wake up." And that's the feeling one gets from this film. You never want it to end.

Read more @

FM4 - Urban Stories: Chungking Express/La Haine World Cinema Contexts

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Saturday, 18 November 2017

FM4 - Urban Stories: Chungking Express

Urban Stories : Chungking Express

World Cinema Masterpiece: Chungking Express

Extract from: Left Field Cinema 

One of the most remarkable aspects of Chungking Express is its visual style. A thousand words could be used to describe this but none of them will ever truly capture Doyle and Wong’s poetry in motion which through truly inspired and unique cinematography achieves something very, very rare. Their distinct hand held style gets them close to the action, so close that no matter what format you view the film in you get a truly honest sense of location; but simultaneously the film is for large sections treats the audience as voyeurs observing these struggling couples from behind a jarred doors, in mirror reflections or from behind a bustling crowd, through this technique there are some excellent uses of deep focus. Along with this they’ve combined a dizzy sense of motion (the shots are rarely static) and dazzling colours, opulent yellows and deep blues, along with many others from a wide spectrum. Although there has clearly been some heavy colour grading it all feels natural; in contradiction with the heavy use of artificial light. It’s almost an hour into the film before we receive our first glimpses of sunlight, and even then it’s very brief. Otherwise it is almost entirely lit from the varying lights of the city, often combining warm and cold light in effective ways: at one point the woman in the blonde wig walks through a red light followed by a blue, followed by another red and so on. This explosively exciting cinematography is matched by Chungking Express’ speedy editing, often jumpcutting scenes and moving to bizarre cutaways, it all breezes by at an extraordinary pace for a film which doesn’t really have many events. Its effervescing style is both deliciously distinctive; elusively hypnotic and captures the beauty of this intoxicating metropolis. If these adjectives seem vague and flakey then I apologise, but honestly no words will suffice; perhaps the best description which others have used is kaleidoscopic.

This aspect is one which helps elevate Chungking Express to masterpiece status. Another aspect is Faye and Cop 663’s unquestionable and unquantifiable sexual chemistry. Faye has a magical energy which once again evades definition or explanation; likewise, Leung’s stiff, ridged but quietly contemplative, sweet, and heart broken Cop 663 contrasts well, but the attraction between them is what makes the film. Even when they’re not in the same room as one and other, the connection can be still felt, and this is what Chungking Express is about, the brief and fleeting connections between people worlds apart in the bustling city state of Hong Kong; connections created between characters who barely know each other. Wong uses all of his narrative restraint in keeping the two stories simple and yet utterly involving. He gives us narration and idiosyncrasies of all the major characters; be it the Woman in the blonde wig’s continual wearing of sunglasses and a raincoat, as she doesn’t know “when it will rain or when it will shine”; Cop 223’s obsessive compulsion - buying tinned pineapples with a May 1st expiry date; Cop 663’s habit of talking to a bar of soap, a towel or even cuddly toys, or Faye’s slightly irritating continual playing of “California Dreaming” by the Mamma’s and the Pappa’s (audiences will be forgiven if they’re a little sick of this song by the time the closing credits role.)

The characters are also reverse clichés in many respects, not so much now but in the year of the production the stereotypical Hong Kong police officer was basically Chow Yun Fat’s Inspector Yuen from John Woo’s 1992 action flick Hard Boiled. A dedicated police man whose life revolves around his occupation, who’s ruthless with a firearm and shoots first asks questions if the plot gives him room to. If we’re honest the evolution of this stereotype hasn’t been too profound in the years that followed, post hand over and we’re still seeing this sort of dedicated portrayal in Wai-keung Lau and Siu Fai Mak’s Infernal Affairs. Granted Tony Leung’s portrayal of Chan Wing Yan in Infernal Affairs is far more complex than the characters of an average Woo film but it still amounts to the same type of police officer; flawed and dedicated to the point of being totally engulfed by his work. In Chungking Express neither Cop 663 or Cop 223 can be described as hardened tough guys, 223 gets to briefly chase a criminal in the early stages of the film but other than this minor exception neither of them are seen doing any police work, their stories are not about their jobs, but about them as people. This is a master stroke from Wong as it allows the narrative to abstract itself from the potentially sensationalised nature of city policing. Cop 663 and 223 are instead shown to be real human beings, emotional, heartbroken, and grieving for the relationships they’ve lost; rather than being the typical laconic male figure of strength and solidarity they are instead a rather talky pair, needy and desperate for affection. The Woman in the Blonde Wig is also another contortion of a noir cliché, taking the femme fatal role, and instead of making her cold heart melt Wong keeps her totally consistent, ruthless and professional up to the end of her story. Then there’s Faye the lively girl working at the midnight express, a free spirit and a true eccentric, traditionally this sort of behaviour in woman is portrayed as “nice, but needs to be controlled by her strong willed husband” well here, like the Woman in the Blonde Wig, Faye stays faithful to her spirit right up to the end and never compromises her lifestyle for a man. In this sense both of the female leads don’t develop much, but they’re not in need to development, they are who they are and there’s no problem in that; it is both the cops who need to sort their lives out and get over their lost loves.

Wong shot the film in a two month lull while the much bigger shoot of Ashes of Time had ground to a hault. He literally shot Chungking Express on-the-run. Never stopping to breath they completed the shoot in chronological order within 24 days; they did this through low-budget and resourceful film making using crew’s houses and flats as locations for the homes of the characters. This guerilla style is part of the method which allowed Wong to capture the kinetic vibrancy of Hong Kong, a bustling street scene is actually shot in a bustling street, a person’s house is actually a person’s house. Night or day, light or dark Wong shot it how it was. Writing the scenes the night before the shoot, the film feels fresh and desultory - because it was, never given time to stagnate everything moves faster than you’ll ever expect.

'Chungking Express': Key Scenes

Friday, 17 November 2017

FM4 - Urban Stories: Chungking Express

At the time that 'Chungking Express' (1994) was being made, Hong Kong was undergoing changes and moving ever closer towards the millennium while another historical moment, its handover to China in 1997, was just round the corner. There seemed to be so many possibilities for the future; both bad things and good things could happen. Citizens of Hong Kong became increasingly anxious about the unknown future. They were worried that political changes would result in a decrease of freedom, an undesirable change in lifestyle, and a negative effect on the economy. Yet at the same time, they were happy to be part of their motherland again. Now, with the help of China’s abundant resources, Hong Kong could continue to excel in its economy and diverse culture, and even further push the country’s prosperity.

In this paper (extract above), Elaine Chan discusses how the portraits of the characters in 'Chungking Express', apparently a film about love stories, represents the Hong Kong citizens at that time.

Another useful article can be found @ Jump Cut

Urban Stories: Powerpoint

Some key phrases and terms for 'Urban Stories'. Click on the image above.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Wong Kar-wai - Auteuristic Themes/Style

Wong Kar-wai is a Hong Kong Second Wave filmmaker, internationally renowned as an auteur for his visually unique, highly stylised, emotionally resonant work, including Days of Being Wild (1990), Ashes of Time (1994), Chungking Express (1994), Fallen Angels (1995), Happy Together (1997) and 2046 (2004). His film In the Mood for Love (2000), starring Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung, garnered widespread critical acclaim. Wong's films frequently feature protagonists who yearn for romance in the midst of a knowingly brief life and scenes that can often be described as sketchy, digressive, exhilarating, and containing vivid imagery.

Wong was listed at number three on the British Film Institute's Sight & Sound Top Ten Directors list of modern times.

Urban Stories: Visual Revison Guide for Annotation

Urban Stories: Brief Student Response

"The stylistic choices made by filmmakers define not just the look but also the meaning of a film". How far far is this true of the films you have studied for this topic?

I personally agree with the quote and believe it's very true in the films I have studied for this topic. In La Haine the chosen stylistic techniques give each situation a great deal of contextual meaning. For example in the rooftop scene, above Hubbert's burn out gym, we see Said ascend through a very small gap in the roof to get to the rooftop. This could be to represent how difficult it is to escape to freedom, as the chances are very small. Through a 360° camera shot of the entire rooftop we are able to see that all the youths have achieved a certain degree of freedom, as they are free and have the power to do what they like in this environment. Although they do have power in this situation they are still trapped by the Urban mise-en-scene of their environment shown due to the relatively small space they occupy through the 360° panning shot. Also through the stylistic choice of diegetic sound we can hear the sound of American hip-hop being played on a 'ghetto-blaster', a clear aural and visual representation of the the influence of American culture upon these Urban Parisian youths. They are also dressed in the American street clothing of hip-hop artists and break dancers; baseball caps, hoodies, tracksuit tops and baggy jeans. Everyone is freely smoking, drinking, eating hotdogs and discussing American movies and guns. As Vinz and Hubbert discuss Vinz's desire to break the law during the riots and be placed in jail (a martyr to their cause) conflict erupts with the entrance of the Mayor and police  in the street below. As Vinz looks over the edge of the rooftop the Mayor and the Police are filmed from a high angle and the youths shout abuse from their dominant position above to exert their power at this particular point. This is a clear stylistic representation of the social situation in French culture during the mid 90's Paris between the youths and the government.