Takeshi Kaneshiro and Brigitte Lin in Chungking Express.
Courtesy Janus Films

Tony Leung, one of the stars of Wong Kar-wai’s epic pop romance Chungking Express, is the most New Wave of the Hong Kong New Wave actors. His face has an old-school Hollywood movie-star quality—his sensuality is the slow-burning kind, lurking beneath quizzical boyishness—though it also feels modern and fresh. It’s a face that might take you anywhere, and in Chungking Express, you follow willingly. The movie consists of two love stories loosely connected by, literally, the brushing of shoulders: in the first section, a plainclothes cop, Takeshi Kaneshiro’s He Zhiwu (or Cop 223), falls for a heroin trafficker played by Brigitte Lin, a mystery vixen in a trench coat and sunglasses, her windblown blond wig marking her as the heir to dozens of movie femme fatales before her. There’s no hope for these two—their story is a languorous cat-and-mouse chase through the city that ends with a burst of stylish, cathartic violence. But the lovers of the second story may fare better: Leung’s Cop 663 is having trouble getting over a lost love, a flight attendant whom he believed would stick around forever. Faye (played, winsomely, by pop star Faye Wong) is the pixielike lunch-counter girl who develops a huge crush on 663—but in his moony state he seems to look right past her. Faye obtains keys to his apartment and sneaks in when he’s at work, at first just tidying up a bit and later redecorating the place, though 663 is so distracted he barely notices the changes.

All that may sound a little stalkerish, but in Wong’s hands it’s both delightful and potent, like a comedic take on the thematic spine of Vertigo: the man who can’t see the woman standing before him. Chungking Express is a stylish, dreamy exploration of the nature of fateful encounters, of missed connections, and of wishes that don’t come true—for the best. Leung is our chief guide, and to find our way, all we need to do is to watch his face. Our reward comes at the end, when the elusive thing we know as happiness finally seems to be within his grasp.

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