Chungking Express

Rating: ***1/2 (out of ****)

Chungking Express, in addition to being a generally terrific film, contains what is, for my money, the single greatest shot in the history of the medium. No, I'm neither kidding nor exaggerating; I really mean it. It's a very simple shot, at least as far as content is concerned: the camera watches from a distance as a man sips some coffee from a paper cup, while a woman leans against a counter and watches him. It lasts about ten to fifteen seconds, and in that time expresses more longing and yearning than most films can accomplish in two hours of anguished dialogue. It's one of the most beautiful and poetic moments I've ever seen in a movie, and Chungking Express, unlike many of the whiz-bang films populating the multiplexes nowadays, is as moving and heartfelt as it is technically audacious. Conceived, shot, and edited in a hurry while the production of Ashes of Time was stalled, the film demonstrates the benefits of spontaneity and limited resources; Wong more or less made it up as he went along, scribbling pages during the day and shooting at night, and the result is unpredictable, goofy, touching, and wonderfully liberating. Even if you've seen plenty of Hong Kong cinema, it's unlikely that you've encountered a movie quite like this one before. TWO IMPORTANT NOTES: 1) you may repeatedly see this film in connection with the word "Tarantino", as it's being released by his distribution arm of Miramax. Even if you hate Tarantino, see Chungking Express anyway; it's got nothing in common with his films, apart from its unconventional structure. 2) I'd think twice about seeing it, however, if you really loathe The Mamas and the Papas' "California Dreamin'." Trust me on this.