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HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: Chungking Express

Blu-ray Reviews

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#1 of 4 OFFLINE   Matt Hough

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Posted December 01 2008 - 08:25 AM

Chungking Express (Blu-ray)
Directed by Wong Kar-Wai

Studio: Criterion
Year: 1994
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:11080pAVC codec
Running Time: 102 minutes
Rating: NR
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Cantonese/Mandarin/English
Subtitles: English
Region: A
MSRP: $ 39.95

Release Date: December 18, 2008
Review Date: December 1, 2008

The Film


Wong Kar-wai is sometimes referred to as the Chinese Godard, and in the eccentricities of some of his characters, his chop-a-block method of filming, and stories dealing with some people on the outskirts of the law, one can understand the similarities that would lead to such a comparison. Chungking Express is a decidedly mixed bag, however. There are some appealing characters in this dual story of lovesick, forlorn policemen, but the first story is notably weaker than the second, and it takes a star-making turn by a newcomer and an appealing co-star, both in the second half, to win back audience support after the hapless and rather rambling first segment finally ends.

The policeman in the first half of the film, known by his badge number 223 (Takeshi Kaneshiro) has been dumped by his girl friend and is desperately trying to find a replacement. He’s intrigued by an exotic Asian woman wearing a blonde wig and sunglasses (Brigitte Lin Ching-hsia) not knowing that she’s a notorious international heroin smuggler who’s just wiped out several double-crossing henchmen. In the second segment, Policeman 663 (Tony Leung Chiu-wai) has been deserted by his flight attendant girl friend (Valerie Chow), but he’s not feverish to become enmeshed in another relationship so hurriedly. At the lunch counter which he visits daily, helper Faye (Faye Wang) becomes so infatuated with him that while he’s on duty, she steals away to his apartment and begins cleaning and subtly redecorating it while neglecting her job at the counter including forgetting to pay the electric bill much to her cousin’s (Piggy Chan Kam-chuen) chagrin.

To compensate for a slightly anemic first segment (its 42 minutes are something of a chore to sit through), Wong Kar-wai has staged the film’s only real action moments as kinetic jolts with camerawork that’s flashy and dizzying and has employed lots of jump cuts to give the segment more life and bounce than the material actually justifies. In counterpoint, the second segment, much more eccentric, charmingly whimsical and ultimately romantic, relies more on the chemistry of the stars and some funny comedic bits as the young girl eludes being caught trespassing by hiding in cabinets and slipping out undetected. Wong Kar-wai has written in some parallels between the segments to loosely tie them together (and look quickly and you’ll see members of each segment’s cast fleetingly glimpsed in the other segment), but the second segment is strong enough that it could easily have been expanded and been a feature on its own.

The movie was a star-making vehicle for Faye Wang, and her wide-eyed, goofy ingénue is delightfully unique and a perfect match for Tony Leung Chiu-wai’s grounded, steady policeman. Piggy Chan Kam-chuen’s counterman is a wry albeit failed matchmaker whose suggestions for romance always end in disaster. The movie was the swan song for leading actress Brigitte Lin Ching-hsia who married and retired from the screen following this performance. Both she and the appealing newcomer Takeshi Kaneshiro are let down by the spotty writing in the first segment, doing what they can with material meant to be funny, quirky, and exciting and which falls a bit flat.

Video Quality


The film’s 1.66:1 theatrical aspect ratio is delivered in 1080p using the AVC codec. Though sharpness is never an issue, there’s a kind of gauzy haze that wafts over many scenes and which lends them a softness that sometimes clashes with the hard contrast and bold colors of adjoining sequences. The moderate grain of the film is preserved insuring that no DNR has been applied here. A yellow scratch does momentarily interrupt the proceedings, but for the most part, the encode is lacking in artifacts. The white subtitles are beautifully delivered with a smoothness and bold font that’s pleasurable to read. The film has been divided into 26 chapters.

Audio Quality


The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix is decidedly front centric with only occasional uses of the rear channels. Otherwise, the pop music of the Mamas and the Papas stays in the left and right fronts and the infrequent ambient sound which gets delivered to the rears is clear but underwhelming.

Special Features


The audio commentary by Asian film expert Tony Rayns is a good one giving much background information on the filmmakers’ other projects and offering up anecdotes on the filming of the movie that never bore.

Director Wong Kar-wai and frequent collaborator director of photography Christopher Doyle are interviewed for 12 ¼ minutes in 1996 on the British television series Moving Pictures not only about Chungking Express but also about their other works with film clips from several of them. They also give a brief tour of several Hong Kong locations where the film was shot. It’s shown here in a picture-boxed 1080i presentation.

The American theatrical trailer announcing the film’s release is presented in 1080p and runs 1 ½ minutes.

An enclosed 15-page booklet contains cast and crew lists, the chapter listing, and a celebratory essay on the movie by film writer Amy Taubin.

The Criterion Blu-rays are now including a maneuvering tool called “Timeline” which can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc, the title of the chapter you’re now in, and index markers for the commentary that goes along with the film, all of which can be switched on the fly. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.

In Conclusion

3.5/5 (not an average)

Chungking Express has a somewhat erratic look on Blu-ray, alternately semi-soft and sharp, the differences more noticeable in high definition. The content is a bit erratic, too, with its second half more charming and alluring than its first half. Still, it’s a fine presentation, one fans will enjoy having with this extra resolution.

Matt Hough
Charlotte, NC

#2 of 4 OFFLINE   Chris S

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Posted December 02 2008 - 03:06 PM

Thanks for the review! In your opinion do you think the alternating sharp/semi-soft PQ has more to do with the film elements or directorial intentions or do you perceive this to be a mastering issue? This will be a blind purchase for me based on word of mouth about this film. Very much looking forward to checking it out.
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#3 of 4 OFFLINE   Matt Hough

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Posted December 02 2008 - 03:49 PM

I wish I had seen a theatrical release so I could speak with authority. I suspect it was intentionally filmed that way though why scenes alternate suddenly between soft and sharp is lost on me.

#4 of 4 OFFLINE   justinslot



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Posted December 04 2008 - 09:11 AM

You'd have to be Chris Doyle to understand the why of that particular question. This is an interesting choice for an HD release because some of the scenes aren't supposed to look that clear to begin with (like the abstracted "action" in the beginning.) Do the gauzy scenes look even gauzier?

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