Chungking Express—Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)

Video: 4/5
Audio: 3.5/5
Extras: 3/5

The whiplash, double-pronged “Chungking Express” is one of the defining works of nineties cinema and the film that made Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar-Wai an instant icon. Two heartsick Hong Kong cops, both jilted by ex-lovers, cross paths at the Midnight Express take-out restaurant stand, where the ethereal pixie waitress Faye works. Anything goes in Wong’s gloriously shot and utterly unexpected charmer, which cemented the sex appeal of its gorgeous stars and forever turned canned pineapple and the Mamas and the Papas “California Dreamin” into tokens of romantic longing.

I’ve heard nothing but raves for this film over the last decade and have always been chomping at the bit to see it but never finding the right opportunity. I am a big fan of Wong Kar-Wai’s other films including In the Mood for Love and its follow up but this one struck me as slightly boring overall. It is a beautifully shot character piece but it moves quite slowly and while it does have some very witty moments, they are a bit few and far between. The film is essentially two different short films that cross each other only twice in the film and have no real effect on each other. There is no denying the beauty of the photography and the great style but I was expecting a bit more depth given his other works.

This is one of the first Blu-ray releases from Criterion, which has been the leader in special edition releases since Laserdisc. This HD master isn’t as impressive as I was hoping for, but the styling of the film may have a lot to do with it. Fine object detail is on the soft side and the image lacks the sharp look that we see so often on Blu-ray. Colors are a bit subdued but I didn’t notice any noise or signs of ringing. Compression artifacts are non-existent and depth of image is generally strong. The image isn’t quite as dimensional as most HD releases but it isn’t completely flat either. Those looking for a sharp and detailed transfer may be disappointed though.

The soundtrack is delivered in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and was supervised by the director. The mix is front heavy but the surrounds do a decent job of opening up the soundstage on occasion. I loved the presence of the film’s soundtrack selections and the overall imaging of the mains. Dialogue is very natural in tonal balance and timbre and I didn’t notice any strain in the dialogue at all. Fidelity is strong and dynamic range is about average.

Criterion delivers this Blu-ray in a slip case that features an insert containing some info on the film and an essay from a film critic. The disc itself features an audio commentary from Asian cinema critic Tony Rayns and an episode of Moving Pictures from the mid-nineties that interviews the director and cinematographer on the film’s production and style. The trailer is also included.

I was really excited to see this one in Criterion’s initial Blu-ray slate as I’ve been meaning to watch it for years now. I was a bit disappointed with the video presentation but without anything to compare it to I imagine it is exactly the way Wong wanted it to look. Extras are a bit lighter than I’m used to seeing from Criterion but I enjoyed the interview. Overall I would recommend this for fans of the movie but suggest a rental for those not familiar with the film.

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