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Acclaimed Hong Kong New Wave director Wong Kar-Wai presents a kinetic, offbeat look at his city in these two stories. The first concerns a young woman who has been double-crossed in a heroin deal and her budding romance with a lovelorn cop. The second deals with another officer whose girlfriend has left him and the young waitress who tries to help him without his knowledge.
For more about Chungking Express and the Chungking Express Blu-ray release, see Chungking Express Blu-ray Review published by Dr. Svet Atanasov on November 22, 2008 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Starring: Brigitte Lin, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Faye Wong, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Valerie Chow, Chen Jinquan
Director: Wong Kar-wai
» See full cast & crew
Chungking Express Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, November 22, 2008
Leading independent US distribs Criterion enter the Blu-ray market with the long-awaited release of Wong Kar-Wai's "Chungking Express" (1994), a stylishly photographed drama built upon two completely unrelated stories. In 1995 pic won four awards, including Best Director and Best Actor (Tony Leung Chiu Wai), at the Hong Kong Film Awards.
A lonely cop (Takeshi Kaneshiro, Perhaps Love, House of Flying Daggers) is wandering the neon-lit streets of Hong Kong. He is heartbroken, sad, and unable to connect with the people around him. His loved one (Valerie Chow, Red Zone) has left him and life has suddenly become pointless. So, to numb the pain, the cop decides to fall in love again as quickly as possible.
A blond woman (Brigitte Lin, Warriors from the Magic Mountain, Ashes of Time) with thick dark glasses hires a group of Indians to transport a large amount of drugs for her. After she pays each of the Indians a hefty chunk of money, the woman takes them to a local tailor. There they are given new clothes, while the drugs are hidden in their personal belongings. When the time comes for the Indians to serve their part of the deal, they disappear. Devastated and jaded, the woman heads to a local bar where she encounters a funny-talking cop.
A second cop (Tony Leung, In the Mood for Love, Lust, Caution) is also struggling to overcome the loss of a loved one. He often dines at a fast-food restaurant where one of the workers, a beautiful girl (Faye Wang, Okinawa Rendez-vous, 2046) addicted to music, falls for him. The cop, however, is unaware. Eventually, the girl manages to get a key for his apartment and starts visiting it while the cop is at work. Slowly but surely, the apartment begins to look cleaner, better organized, and friendlier, while the cop begins to question his sanity.
Mixing humor, drama and romance to perfection, Wong-Kar Wai's Chungking Express could be a difficult film to like if one isn't particularly impressed by the stylistic preferences of its director. It is a moody, episodic, and focused on detail film whose narrative is practically unimportant. With other words, this is a film of moods and feelings rather than plot. Naturally, the two stories in Chungking Express come to an end without providing a conclusive resolution.
Christopher Doyle (Fallen Angels, Happy Together) and Lau Wai-Keung's (Infernal Affairs) lensing gives Chungking Express a very unique look. In the beginning of each story, his camera follows the main protagonists from afar, then gradually comes closer, and finally befriends them. The camera moves are also tied to the manner in which color is utilized throughout the entire film. Naturally, even some rather casual sequences look quite extraordinary.
Lastly, Chungking Express also boasts a very unusual soundtrack - a wonderful mix of traditional Asian and lush ambient tracks (the sax-theme is truly one of the most beautiful pieces I have ever heard) - courtesy of Frankie Chan, Michael Galasso, and Roel A. García. The Mamas and the Papa's classic hit "California Dreaming" is also used as the film's leitmotif.
Note: In 1995, Chungking Express won four Hong Kong Film Awards, including Best Director (Wong Kar-Wai) and Best Actor (Tony Leung), as well as the Film of Merit award granted by the Hong Kong Film Critics Society Awards.
Chungking Express Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.67:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer, Wong Kar-Wai's Chungking Express arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion.
Before we get to the technical presentation, I would like to clarify something that had me puzzled for a few seconds. Immediately after the BD loads up on your TV screen, you will see the tiny Criterion logo in the upper left corner. Please keep in mind that you have to wait approximately 10-15 seconds before your player redirects you to the main menu. Don't panic as I did, and do not immediately eject the disc (for whatever reason I thought that my disc did not load up properly).
Well, I suppose it is official now - Criterion are finally on board, and I have their first Blu-ray release in my hands. It is a stylishly designed digipack that houses a nice booklet plus the actual disc. For those of you wondering what exactly the digipack looks like, I suppose one could argue that it is very close to the thin-packs the studio used for the Agnes Varda collection, only the Blu-ray pack is a bit smaller. It also has a clear holder with the Blu-ray logo on the very top, as well as a nice pocket to hold the booklet. In addition, of course, to the main case which holds the smaller case where the actual disc is. Here are a few photos we've taken for you:
Now off to the transfer. The first thing I would like to point out to you is that the back cover of my Blu-ray disc states: "New, restored high-definition digital transfer with DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack supervised by director Wong Kar-Wai." Obviously, this little disclaimer should answer plenty of questions as to whether or not Criterion had Wong Kar-Wai involved with the production of their first Blu-ray release.
The actual transfer on the other hand is simply beautiful. It boasts a healthy dose of grain, great contrast, and a degree of clarity the SDVD does not deliver (yes, I do own the SDVD and for the last couple of hours have been comparing the two extensively). Furthermore, blown through a digital projector the Blu-ray transfer reveals a much stronger composure, and you should be able to see clearly where and how it excels (take the bar scene at the end of the first story, for example, and compare it to the SDVD). Also, I believe that film aficionados will be most satisfied with the fact that Chungking Express boasts a pure, film-like look, which is exactly what we wanted and expected from Criterion.
As far as the film's color-scheme goes, I suppose the fact that Wong Kar-Wai has supervised this transfer puts plenty of the speculations we've seen as of late to rest. Well, at least until the recently announced Artificial Eye Blu-ray release arrives. As of this very moment, however, I personally am completely satisfied with the look of Chungking Express as well as its nuanced color-scheme. (Note: I tested the Criterion Blu-ray disc on my Region-B hardware and I can confirm that this is indeed a Region-A "locked" release, which those of you with Region-B only equipment will not be able to playback).
Chungking Express Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The back cover for this Blu-ray release states that the audio track for Chungking Express has been supervised by Wong Kar-Wai as well. It also notes that a Cantonese DTS-HD MA 5.1 track is what Criterion have chosen to compliment the impressive video presentation. Strangely enough, unless you see what the back cover reveals, you might have a very difficult time figuring out what audio codec the distribs have opted for as there isn't a dedicated audio section on their disc menu. With other words, you will have to have your receiver do all of the detective work. This being said, the newly restored audio mix is simply gorgeous. Frankie Chan, Michael Galasso, and Roel A. García's original tunes, as well as the cohort of classical songs, come off the speakers with a remarkable clarity, and I certainly feel confident in stating that the Blu-ray disc very much overshadows what the SDVD delivers in terms of audio. Here the music score brings forward completely different qualities which seem to have been lost in previous releases – richer overtones, great balance, and impressive clarity (the sax solo is simply flawless). My only complaint in the audio department is related to the use of the English (white) subtitles, which appear rather big for my taste. .
Chungking Express Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
In the extras department you will find exactly what the SDVD version of Chungking Express offers – the original US theatrical trailer and an excerpt from the BBC television series Moving Pictures with cinematographer Christopher Doyle and Wong Kar-Wai. Finally, the disc also hosts the full-blown documentary by Tony Rayns in which he effectively deconstructs Chungking Express. What the Blu-ray disc offers in addition to what is already provided on the SDVD is a nice little feature called "Timeline". With it, you can bookmark specific scenes (use the green button of your remote) while watching the film, or listening to the documentary, and then compare different scenes, after you've seen the film or listened to the analysis. You could later on delete your bookmarks (use the blue button on your remote) and return to the main feature. The lovely booklet Criterion have provided has the same essay you might have already seen on the SDVD titled "Electric Youth", written by Amy Toubin (she is a contributing editor for Film Comment and Sight & Sound, in addition to being a contributor at Artforum). Undoubtedly, this is a terrifically written piece providing a very strong analysis for Chungking Express.
Chungking Express Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Criterion are finally on board with the rest of the studios currently producing on Blu-ray, and I could not be any happier. They certainly capture a fragment of the film market which I am very interested in and having them release timeless classic as well as important contemporary films on Blu-ray should be terrific. I hope that their efforts are appreciated, and more importantly, rewarded with strong sales so we could all benefit from their rich catalog of films. Chungking Express, Criterion's first Blu-ray release, is nothing short of magnificent. The video and audio treatments are superb, and exactly what I was hoping to see and hear. I really feel like we are entering a new era where important films will finally be treated with the deserved attention no other format has been able to secure. Very Highly Recommended.
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