Chungking Express Vibration

August 15, 2021 By mk

“That was the closest we ever got, just 0.01 cm between us. 57 hours later, I fell in love with this woman.” (Chungking Express, 1994)

Chungking Express is a 1994 Hong Kong film directed by Wong Kar-wai. It is a stylish portrayal of a romantic entanglement set in the Chungking Mansions in Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong. The film, although not directly related to Murakami’s work, certainly captured the atmosphere of the urban people that Murakami’s novels portray.

Chungking Mansions, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong (Oct. 2019)

The time of the film

The film made a sensation when it was released in Tokyo on 15 July 1995 at Ginza Theatres Seiyu, a year after its release in Hong Kong. The storyline, driven by stylish imagery, dialogue and music, shared the “something” that existed in Tokyo, 3,000km (1,800miles) away from the setting place. In Tokyo, the film was a favourite of the people who liked Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville (first released in 1970, re-released in 1994), Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994), Luc Besson’s Léon (1995) and Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting (1996).

In 1994, Murakami was in the United States, published the first and second parts of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle in April. When he temporarily returned to Japan the following year in March 1995, the underground gas attack occurred. He returned to the US a few weeks later, and then to Japan in June.

The film was released in Tokyo in July, shortly after Murakami’s return to Japan. Although Murakami has never mentioned it, the atmosphere of the film can be seen in The Sputnik Sweetheart, published four years later.

Sumire arrived at my apartment a little before five. I didn’t recognize her. She’d taken on a complete change of style. Her hair was cut stylishly short, her bangs still showing traces of the scissors’ snips. (Sputnik Sweetheart, Ch.2)

If we swap clothes I can give them the slip. Thank God we’re the same size.’ Just like some Hong Kong action flick.” (Sputnik Sweetheart, Ch.2)

Lots of tiny objects, like airplanes, are buzzing around the sky. (Sputnik Sweetheart, CH.6)


In The International City

The film was shot almost entirely on the streets of Hong Kong, but it transcends the indigenous as if the story would work even if the backdrop were replaced by that of other large cities. And the loneliness and joy of the young people living there are equally present and connected to the narrative. This miraculous timing was accelerated by the fusion of the Cranberries’ Celtic melody line, made on the other side of the earth, with Cantonese lyrics, and empathetic California Dreaming by The Mamas & the Papas, made on the other coast of the Pacific.

“California Girls” still sits in the corner of my record shelf. When summer comes I dust it off and play it over and over again. I sit back, have a beer, and think about California. (Hear the Wind Sing, Ch.39)

Mong Kok, Hong Kong, (Oct. 2019)

It was in the wood

The original title of the film was “Chungking Wood (重慶森林)”, which was released in Japan as “Planet in Love (恋する惑星).” In Tokyo, we loved the title very much, but it was not until some time later that we learned that the original title was a kind of homage to “Norwegian Wood“, published in Japan in 1987 and in Hong Kong in 1991.

“The monologues in Chunking Express was actually meant to be a bit of a joke between friends. When we were making that film, Haruki Murakami was all the rage in Hong Kong. Everyone was talking to each other in that style (laughs). So I thought I’d make a joke of it.” (Wan Kar-Wai Interview in Hong Kong Den-ei Sekai, (Japanese),1997)

It was almost the same in Tokyo, but what was a slight difference was that even people who had not read Haruki Murakami then, spoke monologues and behave like the characters in his novel would do at that time.

Shibuya, Tokyo (Oct. 2019)
Nathan Rd, Mong Kok, Hong Kong (Oct. 2019)