One of the most influential movie of the 90s was Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. Combining style, instantly quotable dialogue, and a non-linear, multi-threaded narrative it became an instant classic when it was released in 1994. Watching it back now, it still feels like a very recent, modern film.
Released the same year was the much less famous Chungking Express. Like Tarantino’s movie it features a multi-thread narrative, and is incredibly stylish. It also features the same kind of film references Tarantino has become famous for. As such, it isn’t at all surprising that this is one of the American director’s favourite movies of all time.
It features two almost entirely separate stories, linked by a takeaway restaurant called Midnight Express. The two narratives are both based around cops trying to get over recently failed relationships. However, the women they are interested in couldn’t be more different. One is a drug dealer who has just been double crossed by a male associate. The other fits the description of Manic Pixie Dream Girl.
A Manic Pixie Dream Girl (or MPDG for short), for those of you who don’t know is the term given to women who fly in and out of a character’s life, teaching a normally uptight male lead, to relax and enjoy life more. Other examples include Natalie Portman in Garden State, Maggie Gyllenhaal in Stranger Than Fiction, and Kirsten Dunst in Elizabethtown, which is where the term, incidentally stems from.
The MPDG in this case is Faye, who dances around to California Dreamin’; breaks into the male lead’s apartment so she can clean it and rearrange furniture; and glides across our screens with few concerns beyond making sure the music is loud enough so she can’t think.
The success of the movie depends upon whether you find all of this charming or deeply grating. The chances are if you’ve ever fallen for (or had a girl-crush on) Natalie Portman, Zooey Deschanel or Maggie Gyllenhaal in any film you’ll probably fall for Faye.
Beyond the narrative of the movie, the cinematography on offer is a joy to behold. Mixing fast action, depictions of claustrophobic living and a beautiful mix of yellows, blacks and deep reds that get under the skin of Hong Kong living.
Overall, this movie is very worthwhile, and appears to say a lot through very little. The more I’ve reflected on it, the more I’ve come to appreciate all the different layers it has. Like that movie of Tarantino’s it’s dated very well, and still feels incredibly relevant and ground-breaking 16 years on.