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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 February 7, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Brigitte Lin, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Faye Wong, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Valerie Chow, Chen Jinquan
Director: Kar Wai Wong
» See full cast & crew
Chungking Express Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, February 7, 2009
Following the steps of Criterion, British distributors Artificial Eye have now released Wong Kar-Wai's "Chungking Express" (1994) on Blu-ray. However, there are some notable differences between the two releases in the video department. The two discs also offer a different set of supplemental features.
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 1.78:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer, Wong Kar-Wai's Chungking Express arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of British distributors Artificial Eye.
The UK Blu-ray release of Chungking Express is bound to spur some very interesting discussions. First of all, unlike what the back cover for the disc indicates (an aspect ratio of 1.85:1), the UK release is actually framed in 1.78:1 (the Criterion release is in the correct aspect ratio of 1.66:1). Second, during the last 24 hours I have been testing and comparing the UK disc to the Criterion Region-A release, and, in my opinion, there are some notable differences between the two. The key ones are contrast, color-scheme, and, as noted above, framing.
Contrast – I am unsure whether or not you could tell from the screen grabs I have provided for this review, but the Artificial Eye release is notably darker. There are certain scenes where the blacks are so overpowering that clarity and contrast are directly affected. Strangely enough, during a lot of the daylight scenes contrast is dramatically improved, and in my opinion far superior to that seen on the Criterion release.
Color-scheme – What I see on the Artificial Eye disc is a heavy bluish tint that seems to be very consistent with the film's ambient look. I have been going back and forth between this release and the Criterion disc, and the more I look at the two the more uncertain I am which one I prefer. Part of me likes the bluish tint on the Artificial Eye disc as it certainly resonates better with the film's marquee ambient look (the slow camerawork is far less distracting). Yet, I know that the Criterion transfer was supervised by Wong Kar-Wai. This being said, next to the Artificial Eye release the Criterion transfer looks notably redish (the skin tones in particular look quite different).
Framing – Well, this one should be easy. Obviously, the fact that Artificial Eye have slightly cropped their release to 1.78:1 from the film's original aspect ratio of 1.66:1 gives Criterion the edge. There is nothing more to be said, really, though in reality the difference between 1.66:1 and 1.78:1, particularly with overscanning , is negligible.
This being said, the transfer Artificial Eye have provided is very healthy. It is practically free of disturbing edge-enhancement and macroblocking patterns as well as debris, dirt, and scratches. Unlike the Criterion disc, the Artificial Eye release is also Region-Free. Therefore, you will be able to play the UK Blu-ray disc on your PS3 or SA regardless of your geographical location (for the record: the menu is not in PAL).
Chungking Express Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There are two audio tracks on this Blu-ray disc: Cantonese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1. I certainly could not tell if the Criterion DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, which was supervised by Wong Ka-Wai, is different than the one Artificial Eye have secured for their release. I did some random comparisons between the two discs and, frankly, they sound identical to me (I would recommend listening to the sax theme if you wish to hear whether or not there are any nuanced differences between the two tracks). This being said, the overall quality of the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is exceptional. The track is far more convincing than what the SDVD Criterion release offers via its Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, and I would certainly argue that it is a good enough reason to consider upgrading. For the record, I did not detect any disturbing pops, cracks, or hissing. Artificial Eye have also provided optional English subtitles (and they are not Americanized – color versus colour, etc).
Chungking Express Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The first supplemental piece on this Blu-ray disc is the old introduction to Chungking Express by director Quentin Tarantino. He quickly states what makes Wong Kar-Wai's film great and suggests a few other titles as well (Tarantino also provides background information on a few of the stars from Chungking Express). Next is "On Location With Cinematographer Christopher Doyle" – an interesting collage of images and comments where Christopher Doyle talks about Hong Kong's ever-changing landscape, the production history of the film, etc. He also revisits some of the locations where Chungking Express was shot (English subtitles are provided for the Cantonese portions of the feature). Next is a long interview with director Wong Kar-Wai where he talks about the history of his film, how the cast was assembled, and the difficulties his team had to overcome. In addition, the director also provides a concise but very informative analysis of Chungking Express. Finally, in addition to text filmographies for Wong Kar-Wai and Christopher Doyle, the Blu-ray disc also offers the original theatrical trailer for the film. (Note: Aside from the theatrical trailer and the text filmographies, all of the extras on this Blu-ray disc are in standard-def PAL. Therefore, unless you have a Region-Free player that performs an onboard PAL-NTSC conversion, or a TV set capable of receiving PAL signal, you won't be able to view the supplemental materials described above).
Chungking Express Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Wong Kar-Wai's Chungking Express has now received a Blu-ray treatment outside of North America. Unlike the Criterion release, the Artificial Eye release is Region-Free. Obviously, it should make quite a few people happy. There are, however, a few minor issues to consider. Still, I think that if you cannot take advantage of Criterion's Region-A "locked" release, this UK produced release could be a very good alternative.
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