Wong Kar-wai: A Cinematic Maestro's Journey Through the World of Film

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Chungking Express is a drama film written and directed by one of Hong Kong’s best directors, Wong Kar-wai. The film has two parts with each revolving around a lovesick policeman and his relationship with a woman. This paper focuses on the first part a shot starting at 53:18 to 53:38 which stars Cop 66 and Faye at a snack bar.

The shot begins almost at end of the first part of the film. It lasts for about 21 seconds and it seems like nothing is happening in this shot. It is completely quiet and nothing clear can be heard and no one is talking to anyone. The characters in this shot (Cop 663 and Faye Wong) can just be seen and not heard. Cop 663, Tony Leung can be observed taking a cup of coffee while Faye just stares at him without saying anything for the whole time. One can suspect that the coffee might have been poisoned but it is not. All is well despite the suspicious atmosphere as Faye just watches him drink the coffee. The relevance of this shot in terms of narrative values cannot be seen as the shot can be omitted and still maintain the thematic concerns of the story. One can understand the narrative behind the film despite the removal of this shot. Many would say that this shot represents one of the best romantic interludes that have ever happened. 21 seconds of pure rapture is a demonstration of the unique nature of Wong’s movies as far as styles and creativity is concerned (Payne, 2009, p.44).

2.    Cast

This shot of the film features Leung Chiu Wai who stars as Cop 663 and Faye Wong who stars as Faye. Faye is a kitchen hand at a snack bar who happened to constantly be serving Cop 663 with coffee since he could sleep after he was left by his girlfriend.

3.    Production

The approach applied in this shot is clearly not found in scripts. It primarily relies on instinct and improvisation and not 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 (Cameron, 2007).

From the 21 seconds of the shot, we can observe that Wong Kar-wai, the director decided the shot following his instincts (Gleason, Tang, and Giovanetti, 2002, p.301). One would not expect a shot that carries such romantic interlude with no activities going on in the shot. Most of the scriptwriters would instead ensure there is a number of activities and dialogues as the romantic scene unfolds by itself.

The slow movement of the coffee cup by Cop 663 allowed the moving crowd to be quick as the shot was projected at a normal rate of 24 frames a second. It was then slowed down by printing many copies of single frames leading to a sense of slow-motion while making it possible to distinguish between the slow background and the fast foreground.

It is this innovative shot that captures the moment time appears to slow down as opposed to the rest of the world at a time of romantic encounter and moments of intimacy.

4.    Costume 

The cop who appears in the snack bar 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.

Faye wears a big ol’ heart t-shirt demonstrating the affection she has for Cop 663. She even shows off the shirt by leaning on the glass table in front of the counter.

5.    Lightning

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 this shot dimly lit. in most instances, specifics of characters and snack bar are masked by shadows. The lighting in this shot is mainly attributed to the sickly glow of fluorescent bulbs in the restaurant. Utilized together with the tight, crowded snack bar, the dark tone taken in this shot is more natural and genuine (De Carvalho, 2008, p.199).

6.    Framing

In this shot, 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.  Cop 663 takes his coffee in slow motion as Faye watches him motionlessly, but pedestrians on the other hand are fast on the streets. The director was able to make this by shooting at 8 frames a second, with the Cop lifting his coffee at extra slow pace as Faye stared with no movements. This made it possible for the pedestrians to move quickly when the shot was projected at 24 frames a second regarded as a normal rate.

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. This effect is applied later in the film as Cop 663 was putting quarters inside a jukebox and it brings about a clear imagination that the time took longer than it should have. One can observe that the shot seems to be short but longer at the same time. It takes 21 seconds before the shot ends but it is subjectively longer than that (2009).

The placement of this shot in the film seems more or less random and can easily be attributed to Faye’s perspective as in this case she is the one in love. She sees all these happening so fast despite happening for a while. She is seen staring steadfastly at Cop 663 while he is not looking at anything specific. He just seems focused on his coffee as he takes a sip every second. One can observe that violent emotions are the reason behind most alterations in people’s perceptions. Thus it can be said that her ardor was the reason behind the endless sip of coffee by Cop 663. She's even seen having a big ol’ heart T-short on while leaning on her arms.

7.    Use of color and Decor

The short 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 (Gallagher, 2016, p.27).

In this shot, the colors usage has clearly demonstrated the romantic mood existing between the characters.

8.    Sound

The sound scholar Michel Chion is observed to undertake extensive work in providing an epitome platform for understanding this shot 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.

However, in this shot, the styles of music and sound effects have not been used completely. The slow movement of pedestrians in front of the restaurant is quiet and the sipping of coffee is also done in complete silence. As such the atmosphere in this shot is quite silent and nothing can be heard.

It can be observed that the director decided to omit sound in this shot so as to develop an interlude of romantic experience as was felt by Faye. She is the reason why everything went quietly fast as she stares at Cop 663 sipping coffee (Bordwell, 2006).

9.    Shot Technics

The visuals in this shot demonstrate a great sense of confusion and bewilderment as depicted by a large number of people moving in front of the restaurant as Faye watches Cop 663. To achieve this effect, Wong decides to use handheld camerawork and on-location shooting which results in an unsteady camera which is constantly in motion. The effect embodies some given levels of spectator where the viewer is put in almost similar situations as the character. The camera shows the pedestrians in a fast motion outside the restaurant while the clock inside is in slow motion (McElhaney, 2015, p.353).

The shooting technique employed in this shot was to ensure that audience can view the story from Faye’s perspective and realize the fact whatever happened in the shot is attributed to her perspective. She is desperate for the attention of Cop 663. Despite wearing the ol’ heart t-shirt which can clearly be seen from the glass board, she seems to not get his attention at all.

However, one can feel that during the 21 seconds of the shot, the audience are in Cop 663’s head as he is thinking about the bad news in the letter. The shooting technique here makes us realize the fact that as he sips his coffee he is busy trying to figure out whether to open the letter or not. In the end, he finishes his coffee and leaves. He tells Faye that he will open it some other time. This decision was hidden during the 21 seconds of the shot as there is a likelihood that he had already made up his mind not to open the letter during the shot.

In this shot, there are some visible traits of the women as portrayed by Hong Kong culture. As we can see that Faye is in love but keeps on working comfortably. She serves her affection with coffee all the time he appears but she holds onto her feelings and keeps working. As can be seen in Hollywood Romantic movies, this is a completely different case where the woman does not sacrifice her job to go look for the man she loves. Faye portrays the character of Hong Kong women who are known to be strong and independent. Through such themes, Wong in his shot techniques is able to add a trademark for Hong Kong women’s culture.

The fractured stop motion camera has been used to show how the two characters Faye and Cop 663 seem to be stuck in time. The Cop is lost in his thoughts probably thinking about the letter while Faye is lost in her thoughts thinking about him.

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 shot.

10.    Conclusion

One can conclude that the film is directed in a way that allows the viewer to connect with what is happening in the shot and the themes that can be drawn from it.

I can also conclude that the techniques used by Wong hide the fact that the shot was all about the delaying the opening of the letter. Even though Wong’s intention was to make sure that audiences make a connection with Cop 663’s line when he said: “After my coffee”. The shot is sped off and slowed down to express Faye’s desire and the at the same time show her fear for her affection. I can comfortably say that film-making technique in this shit did a tap dance in the nervous systems of the audience. The feeling of weakening that comes with the 21 seconds shot is universal, and it is the nature of art that many people will attribute it to diverse emotions and characters.

The slow-motion clock in the restaurant and the fast-moving pedestrians according to Wong is an expression that two people can get connected slowly but quickly. The lack of music and sound in this shot is a demonstration that in love, words do not matter that much. Words are not enough to express love and emotions. According to Wong in this shot, love is not what you can talk about. Words are empty while love is something you can feel, see and sense. As such this shot is a representation of one the purest elicitations of enthusiasm and heartbreak.


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




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