The American Society of Cinematographers

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TV Series
Robert F. Liu, ASC
Isidore Mankofsky, ASC
DVD Playback
Budd Boetticher
Chungking Express
ASC Close-Up
Chungking Express (1992)
Blu-ray Edition
1.66:1 (1080p High Definition)
Dolby Digital 5.1
The Criterion Collection, $39.95

In the mid-1990s, on a humid corner in the teeming city of Hong Kong, amid the kinetic throng of pedestrians and vehicles, two police officers are looking for love. Both men frequent a neon-lit fast-food stand called Midnight Express, located just inside the colossal Chungking Mansion, a crowded mall of newsstands and shops.

The first cop, the brash, young Officer 223 (Takeshi Kaneshiro), seems to call as many women as he can every night while he pines away for the love of his life, May, who has broken up with him. Passing more than once through his beat is a mysterious woman (Brigitte Lin) in a blonde wig and trenchcoat, who barely spares him a glance over her dark glasses. Unbeknownst to Officer 223, she is the unlikely coordinator of numerous human mules who transport heroin to other countries. And she is having a bad night because the mules are not cooperating. Before the end of the night, Officer 223 meets the mystery woman in a bar and makes an unexpected connection with her.

The manager (Chen Jinquan) of Midnight Express has recently hired new counter help, Faye (Faye Wong), who instantly takes notice of another cop, the quiet Officer 663 (Tony Leung), who comes to the counter most nights to buy a salad for his flight-attendant girlfriend. One evening, Officer 663 leaves an envelope for his girlfriend at the restaurant, and the curious Faye carefully steams it open and finds a key to his apartment inside. On the pretext of running errands, she makes several trips to 663’s apartment while he is out and begins some subtle cleaning and redecorating. Eventually, he catches her in the act.

Kar-wai Wong’s Chungking Express was shot over a period of three weeks on the streets of Hong Kong, and the director wanted a slick, fast shooting style. He first tapped cinematographer Wai-keung Lau, but when Lau had to depart to direct his own film, Wong turned to Christopher Doyle, HKSC, with whom he had collaborated on Ashes of Time. The filmmakers quickly continued the film’s schedule, and Doyle recalls in one of the supplements on this DVD that the look of the picture “is dictated by the circumstances in which [we worked]” — nearly all of the locations were used without permission, so the company had to rush through scenes to avoid being caught by authorities.

The Criterion Collection recently released Chungking Express as part of its first wave of Blu-ray titles, and the film has never looked better on home screens. The pristine high-definition transfer adds eye-popping depth to colors and makes the mostly neon sources flicker with a stark, hyper-realistic tone. Doyle’s work is seamlessly rendered with bold, bright hues and excellent, solid-black levels. The image has been cleaned of visible dirt, and a fair amount of intended film grain is visible. This 1080p digital transfer does a remarkable job of keeping all elements in the image stable despite all the wild camera moves.

The audio track is a 5.1 mix and is steadily busy, offering a solid surround experience.

The DVD includes a feature-length commentary by Tony Rayns, who gives an excellent history of Wong’s work and its place in Hong Kong cinema, as well as a strong printed essay by film critic Amy Taubin. Rounding out the disc is the U.S. theatrical trailer and a 13-minute segment from British television that features an interview with Wong and Doyle, who explains, among other things, why one should never let a film crew in one’s apartment.

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