Chungking Express is a 1994 Hong Kong romantic comedy film directed by Wong Kar-wai (Marchetti, 1). It follows two distinct stories about two police officers, Cop 223 (Takeshi Kaneshiro) and Cop 663 (Tony Leung), attempting to move on from heartbreak by finding new love. The film has earned much attention for its innovative visual style, poetic and emotional storytelling, and effective use of music. It has gone on to become a classic of international cinema. This paper will detail how Wong portrays Hong Kong as a transnational space/hub.
Wong Kar-wai’s film presents Hong Kong as a transnational space, a hub of constant change where different people, cultures, and commodities reside and pass through. Its narrative structure, film form, specific use of shots and effects, color, and editing techniques all contribute to this portrayal. The narrative structure is divided into two stories following a different police officer and their romantic encounters. The first one follows Takeshi, who got dumped by his girlfriend and became obsessed with a mysterious woman in a blonde wig. The second story follows Tony, who is also dealing with a recent breakup and is drawn to a quirky snack bar worker (Wong, n.p). These two stories are connected thematically and visually but also represent different aspects of Hong Kong’s transnational identity.
Takeshi Kaneshiro’s story takes place in the Chungking Mansions, a rundown building that serves as a global hub for immigrants and travelers (Marchetti 291). The building is a microcosm of Hong Kong’s transnational identity, with people from different cultures and backgrounds living and working together nearby. Takeshi’s story scenes use tight, claustrophobic shots to emphasize the cramped and chaotic nature of the building, with different languages and sound overlapping and blending (Wong, n.p). This creates a sense of disorientation and confusion, reflecting the experience of living in a transnational space where different cultures and identities collide.
Cop 663’s story occurs in more modern and cosmopolitan spaces, such as a trendy bar and a sleek high-rise apartment(Marchetti 292). These spaces are more polished and refined than the Chungking Mansions but still reflect Hong Kong’s transnational identity. The bar is filled with Western tourists and ex-pats, while Cop 663’s apartment is decorated with Western and Asian pop culture references. Tony’s story has bright, neon colors and stylized camera movements to create a sense of energy and excitement, reflecting the fast-paced and dynamic nature of Hong Kong’s transnational culture. The film’s props, costumes, and set design also contribute to portraying Hong Kong as a transnational space with characters wearing Western and Asian clothing, reflecting the hybridity of Hong Kong’s fashion and style.
Chungking Express set design combines traditional and modern elements, with characters moving between cramped, old-fashioned spaces and sleek, high-tech environments. This creates a sense of contrast and juxtaposition. The traditional spaces in the film, such as the hawker stalls where Faye buys produce and Cop 663 eats local fare and the sweatshops and flophouses frequented by the drug trafficker and her ilk, are presented as cramped and chaotic emphasizing the crowded and disorienting nature of Hong Kong’s traditional spaces(Wong, n.p). In contrast, the modern spaces in the film, such as the trendy bar and Cop 663’s sleek high-rise apartment, are presented as more polished and refined.
The film’s set design also reflects the transnational nature of Hong Kong’s culture and identity. For instance, the boom boxes and Garfield toy in the store display were presumably designed in the United States or Japan, purchased and marketed in hubs like Hong Kong, and then used by a global consumer. Moreover, the film’s exploration of commodities and consumerism adds another layer to its portrayal of Hong Kong as a transnational space. It shows how commodities and consumers are slippery characters, mystifying material relations of production and subject to the whims of fashion. All these aspects reflect the complex economic relationships in Hong Kong, where different cultures and identities collide and blend.
In conclusion, Chungking Express offers a rich and multifaceted portrayal of Hong Kong as a transnational space. Its exploration of gender roles, economic uncertainty, self-reflexivity, and transnational anonymity, among other themes, makes it a thought-provoking and engaging film that resonates with audiences today.
Wong, Kar Wai, director. Chungking Express. FMovies, 14 July 1994, https://fmovies.to/movie/chungking-express-90yq0/1-full. Accessed 29 Apr. 2023.
Marchetti, Gina. “Buying American, consuming Hong Kong: Cultural commerce, fantasies of identity, and the cinema.” The cinema of Hong Kong: History, arts, identity (2000): 289-313.