Monday, July 23, 2012

Raise the Chungking Express?

Watched Zhang Yimou's Raise the Red Lantern (1991) and Wong Kar Wai's Chungking Express (1994) last week, and found in both the triumph of style over substance. The themes of both films are straightfoward--concubinage in the first, and lost love in the second; neither has anything new to add to its theme, except the exotic settings of 1920s China and Hong Kong in the 1990s. To make up for that lack, Zhang indulges in heavy symbolism whereas Wong shows off the trendy technique of shooting with a handheld camera.

Bound by the ritualistic structure of Zhang's film, Gong Li had barely the wiggle-room to develop the character of her Fourth Wife believably. The friendly Second Wife is discovered to be the villain of the piece while the hostile Third Wife ends up the victim. The plot is soap opera-ish.

In Wong's film, pretty boy Takeshi Kaneshiro is completely unconvincing as a cop. The business with the canned pineapple is laughable, rather than insightful, the stuff of teenage mawkishness. The second story in the film is stronger, with better acting from both Tony Leung and Faye Wong. It plays whimsy against melancholia. But can anyone really call a film a masterpiece when only half of it is any good?

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