Four years after his cult classic “Days of Being Wild,” Hong Kong maverick stylist Wong Kar-wai trampolines back with “Chung King Express,” a quicksilver magical mystery tour through the lives of a bunch of young downtown loners. Hip pic, drenched in neo-’60s nostalgia, should delight cinephiles and prove an intriguing addition to the fest repertoire, though its appeal may prove too specialized for broad sales.
Wong made the moderately budgeted, HK$15m ($2 million) movie in only three months, between the end of shooting and start of post-production on his mammoth martial arts costumer “Ashes of Time,” already two years in the works. With its plentiful use of hand-held camera, fast-cutting, and collage-like approach to storytelling, “Wild” has a fresh, risk-taking feel very different from the rigorous “Days,” even though its romantic undercurrent and quartet of urban dreamers are not far removed from the earlier pic. Effect is a little like watching an early Godard movie set in contempo Hong Kong, though with a technical slickness from employing two megastars (Brigitte Lin Ching-hsia, Tony Leung Chiu-wai) and top technicians (lenser Christopher Doyle, production designer William Chang).
First story (42 minutes), set around the labyrinthine tenement building Chung King House in downtown Kowloon, spins on a romantic young cop (Takeshi Kaneshiro), recently ditched by his g.f. As he mopes around, devouring cans of pineapple and calling up old flames, destiny leads him to cross paths with a coldhearted drug dealer (Lin) in a blond wig and designer shades.
Second, more involving story (61 minutes) centers on another young cop (Leung), also ditched by his air hostess g.f. (Valerie Chow), who’s the unwitting fixation of a dotty worker (Faye Wang) at Midnight Express, a fast-food joint.
First seg, almost entirely shot at night, and much showier technically, is the lesser of the two halves, but establishes the movie’s overall tone of urban forlornness. There’s enough energy in the direction and loopy humor in the piece to just about fill the running time.
Longer seg has more going for it, with an engagingly wide-eyed perf by Wang (in a Jean Seberg, “Breathless” haircut) whose body language and facial expressions are wonders to behold. Matinee idol Leung, all boyish incomprehension, is as fresh and relaxed as he’s ever been in his multi-pic career. These are two people you just want to see get together.
Overall, Wong’s movie doesn’t leave as big a wash behind it as the more ambitious “Days” and his “Mean Streets”-like debut, “As Tears Go By,” but it’s an enjoyable cruise. A richly detailed soundtrack, including classics such as “California Dreamin’,” accompanies the many dialogue-free montage sequences.