The First Shot in Chungking Express

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Chungking Express: A Drama Film by Wong Kar-wai

Chungking Express is a drama film written and directed by one of Hong Kong's best directors, Wong Kar-wai. The film has two shots with each revolving around a lovesick policeman and his relationship with a woman. This paper focuses on the first shot which stars Takeshi Kaneshiro, a Hong Kong cop obsessed with his breakup with his girlfriend named May.

Plot Summary

The story begins when He Qiwu is dumped by his girlfriend on 1st April. The cop decided to move on once the month of May was over given that was the name of his girlfriend. We are also shown how he happened to buy pineapples which expired at date 1st of May because May used to enjoy them. Consequently, a woman in a blonde wig struggles to survive out of drug smuggling operation that goes bad.

On 1st May, Qiwu is seen approaching Bottomed Up Club where he meets the woman in the blond wig. He tries to talk to her but the woman was so tired and ended up sleeping, leaving Qiwu to watch ancient movies. In the morning he cleans the woman’s shoes before leaving her still asleep. She woke up and went to kill the drug baron who earlier had set her up and she manages to shoot him. While jogging Qiwu received a birthday message from her on his pager. Qiwu then went to his favorite snack store where he meets one of the new staff members, Faye (Payne, 2009, p.44).

Cast

The first part of the film stars Takeshi Kaneshiro who features as Qiwu, nicknamed Ah Wu, cop 223 and Faye Wong who stars as Faye, Qiwu's girlfriend named May and Brigitte Lin as the woman in a blond wig. Thom Baker stars as the double-crossing drug dealer.

Production

It is observed that Wong had adopted an unusual filmmaking approach (Cameron, 2007, p.49), starting production with no script. This approach primarily relies on instinct and improvisation and nor pre-prepared ideas. He expresses his dislikes on the films made from an already finished script terming it as boring. As such, he does his production as he writes the script drawing inspirations from the setting, music, working conditions and actors in the set. On the other hand, the cast is provided with a minimal plot outline to create and build their characters as they shoot the film.

Wong Kar-wai, the director of the film says he decided to make Chungking Express following his instincts. He emphasizes that in the making of the film Ashes of Time, the director wanted to make a very contemporary movie with characters portraying possession of almost similar challenges. Initially, Wong has seen the two stories having similar stories despite being filmed in Honking in daylight and the other in Kowloon at night (Gleason, Tang and Giovanetti, 2002, p.301).

It is observed that the screenplay was not completed by the time filming commenced, Wong got time to complete it over the new year when the filming stopped.

Costume

The costumes in this shot express the personalities of the characters. The scenes where the lover man is naked foreshadows the exposure of his personality as depicted by the setting of his establishments. He then changes into a black shirt, as a way of covering his body with the frontage of a professional man. On the other hand, her new woman dresses scantily. The idea behind her dressing is primarily expressed by the blonde wig which in a way seals the idea of being the replacement of the lover's protagonist as well as mimicking the protagonist's wig.

The woman in the blonde wig also happens to wear the same outfit throughout this shot. Sunglasses, a raincoat, and a blonde wig. The sunglasses portray how she is hiding her true self and the meaning of her eyes (Orh, 2009).

The cop who appears in the restaurant to drink coffee is dressed in police costumes all the time. This is an expression of his duty as a police officer. On the other hand, Faye and her boss happen to wear gloves in the kitchen while handling hot substances to depict their professions as chefs.

Lightning and Decor

Another important aspect of Wong's use of visuals is the use of natural lighting and night-as-night shooting. As a result, it is observed that most of the film's shots are dimly lit. in most instances, specifics of characters and locations are masked by shadows. The lighting in the first part of the film is mainly attributed to the sickly glow of fluorescent bulbs and street signs found in the scene locations. Utilized together with the tight, crowded locations, the dark tone taken by the film is more natural and genuine (De Carvalho, 2008, p.199).

The most noticeable décor in the film is when the woman is nearly caked on the makeup to make her skin light I seen with red lipstick which goes her blonde wig.

Framing

In the first story, the director employs an unusual shutter-step effect in the opening sequence. This is achieved through the removal of every second and third frame while making duplicates of the others. Wong is observed using this device more sparingly while offering rhythm viewers which ends up having a huge implication in the shot. What is seen at the beginning of the first shot is what seems to be a slow motion but it is not, it is instead… other motion. A rhapsody of sorts. The most interesting scene employing this art is when Cop 223 is chasing after a suspect and what one can see that the cop was crossing the screen left to right. The background seems out of focus while the cop is in focus resulting to a serious race past several neon streaks that creates a picture that the cop is somehow displaced from his surrounding- not in space but in time.

Another interesting shot that offers almost a similar but reverse experience is when Faye and cop223 are depicted in slow motion while one can see in the foreground, the pedestrians whiz past them at overstated time-lapse speed. This is an extraordinary effect that is observed more than twice in this shot as it creates a sensation of a moment longer than expected.

Use of Color

The first story starts with a smear of shuttering images and electric color. It is observed that this shot employs exceptional camera work that gives the film a splash of color an energy that has never been seen before. The acting of the script has given the film a touch of humanity and prevent it from abstract depictions.

The usage of colors in this shot marks the beginning of the feast for senses. The frames in this shot are permeated with colors that raise emotions and mood. Wong largely uses both warm (yellow, red) and cool colors (blue, green and purple to fill the frame. In the director's setting, these colors are observed to help set the mood for a given scene which when used in presence of music will turn the scene into something seductive.

Sound

The sound scholar Michel Chion is observed to undertake extensive work in providing an epitome platform for understanding Chungking Express and its sound works. Chion proves to be an extraordinary music scholar unlike others who limit discussions to score, he instead deals in the whole system of the soundtrack. He shows his expertise in sound effects, music and dialogue as well as interacting with some of the key film's visual elements and how sound can change our perception of images in a film.

The first part of the movie features a song composed by Michael Galasso named "Baroque" which can be heard twice in the shot. It is first heard at the start of the film and when the woman in a blonde wig removes the gun out of the closet.

The use of music and songs in Wong's first part of the film is also seen from the song "California Dreamin'". This song does not exist in isolation but instead is utilized together with the visuals in a way that connects the memory of the film with the music. The musical aspects and lyrics of the song are typical of the popular songs about California. It is observed that beaches, convertibles and bikini-clad girls are not mentioned but rather the song depicts aspects of melancholic uncertainty. It is also observed that the song is in a minor key, a mutative mode (Bordwell, 2006).

Shot Techniques

The visuals in this shot demonstrate a great sense of confusion and bewilderment as depicted by the large population in the city blocks with the Chungking mansions having people from many nationalities as well as illegal immigrants conducting illegal business such as drug trafficking. To achieve this effect, Wong decides to use handheld camerawork and on-location shooting which results in an unsteady camera that is constantly in motion. The effect embodies some given levels of spectator where the viewer is put in almost similar situations as the character. For example, the moving camera puts the viewers in the same crowded spaces as the film characters.

The film opens with a quick movement of the camera in various locations of the city showing the different activities carried out. A series of quick shots taken in this part shows the camera's constant movement as well as surroundings, creating a sense of false-point of view that perspective that focuses on the viewer's presence within the film. For example, in one shot it can be observed that the camera focuses on the woman in the blonde wig while following her as she walks fast in the hallway. The movement of the camera is so fast that one might think that someone was following her. It is further observed that as the woman stops moving the camera also stops as if detected. When she turns and keeps moving, the camera keeps moving as well (McElhaney, 2015, p.353).

In a scene involving the Indian immigrants and the woman in a blonde wig preparing to conduct their illegal business, the unsteady camera makes a closer following of the activities undertaken in that space, which associates the viewer in the illegal business carried out. In the same scene, the early sequence of shots shows the woman in the blonde wig exchange stacks of cash with the Indian immigrants. The camera takes a closer shot of the money while tracking the bills as they exchange the cash. In the following sequence, one can observe the tailor measuring the Indians as the camera takes a cut to an actual point-of-view of the tailor as he wraps the tape around a torso before turning at the woman in a blonde wig. Later, a tracking shot can be observed following an Indian worker as we walk along an overcrowded restaurant, it takes a glimpse of the Woman in the Blonde Wig at a corner seemingly making a conversation on the phone, but continues to track the worker as he put beers on the dinner tables. The camera is then observed moving back and forth, focusing on the faces of the customers as if it was one of the workers concerned with their satisfaction. Wong's mixture of POV shots with the false POV shots results in a sense of confusion which effectively immerses the viewer in the space of the film (Gallagher, 2016, p.48). A scene at the airport indicates how a distant camera takes a shot of the Indian smugglers together with the Woman in a Blonde Wig. It then tracks to the passport counter while taking an eye off the Indians. It suddenly cuts to an unrelated scene with the flight attendant before returning back to the shot of the Woman in a Blonde Wig at the airport. The camera tracks from the counter to the place she had left the Indian smugglers but this time they were nowhere to be seen. It is observed that the camera loses its initial watchful nature and attempts to share the confusion, reaction, and distress of the woman in the blonde wig as a result of the disappearance of the Indians.

In addition to the many instrumental visuals employed by Wong, he also used distinct shooting techniques as well as energized editing to further bring forth the effects of disorientation in the first story. In some shots, the film involves a fast-moving technique as well as frantic handheld camerawork.

Conclusion

One can conclude that the film is directed in a way that allows the viewer to connect with the script and the themes of the film. The creation of the script while shooting the film gives it an ideal setting and beautiful storyline that expresses people's emotions and how to deal with problems facing them in life. The romance depicted by the policemen and May shows the viewers how everything had an end. This time-lapse shot has been shot using POV and false POV shots that allow the viewer to connect with the film.

References

Bordwell, D., 2006. The way Hollywood tells it: Story and style in modern movies. Univ of California Press.

Cameron, A., 2007. Trajectories of identification: travel and global culture in the films of Wong Kar-wai. Jump Cut, 49.

De Carvalho, L.M.M., 2008. Memories of sound and light: musical discourse in the films of Wong Kar-wai. Journal of Chinese Cinemas, 2(3), pp.197-210.

Gallagher, M., 2016. Tony Leung Chiu-Wai: Acting sexy in Hong Kong and China. Asian Cinema, 27(1), pp.43-58.

Gleason, T.R., Tang, Q. and Giovanetti, J., 2002. Wong Kar-Wai: An international auteur in Hong Kong film-making. Journal of Asian Pacic Communication, 12(2), pp.291-310.

McElhaney, J., 2015. Wong Kar-wai. A Companion to Wong Kar-wai, 13, p.353.

Orh, B.C., 2009. FILM COSTUME: AN ANALYSIS OF 2046 (Doctoral dissertation, Hong Kong Baptist University Hong Kong).

Payne, R.M., 2001. Ways of seeing wild: the cinema of Wong Kar-Wai. Jump Cut, 44(04).

September 25, 2023
Category:

Entertainment

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Movies

Subject area:

Film Analysis

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2303

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