Revisiting the “Express” train

Here’s a film that managed to stay with me, all these years, after I first saw it on a grainy YouTube copy:

Please forget the weird voice-over. I kept expecting someone to hand the narrator an Academy Award for the melodramatic voice over, but I digress.

I fell in love with this movie the first time I saw it. Yes, I really do mean the movie and not the angelic but sinful Takeshi Kaneshiro. Truth be told, I kinda liked Tony Leung more than Takeshi Kaneshiro, and even till this day — it’s Tony that can turn my knees to jelly.

I don’t know why, maybe it’s Mr. Leung’s intensity and the gravity of how he plays his roles. Here at Chungking Express, Mr. Leung is a despondent police officer reeling after a bad break-up with his flight attendant girlfriend. There are scenes when he just looked so despondent, so sad that you’d end up wishing you can make him chef salad to make his worries go away.

One scene that I always, always loved is the part where Tony and Faye Wong first met. It was just so simple, so nonchalant that you wouldn’t think it was the time when they first “noticed” each other and the time when the character of Faye Wong first fell in love with the timid policeman.

I loved how crazy Faye Wong’s character was — I won’t go into details but she gives “mad love” a new name.

Don’t get me wrong, I also found the first story, with Takeshi Kaneshiro and Bridgette Lin interesting. The best thing about the first story was the way it presented the legendary Chungking Mansions. The place played the third character in the movie courtesy of nice cinematography that seemed to breathe life to the place. With every turn and every nook and cranny, you can almost feel the darkness and heaviness of the alley ways, you can almost smell the curry, feel the desolation of some of the characters inhibiting the many nooks and alley ways of the mansion.

After watching this movie, Chungking Mansion has become a weird fixation for me. Like I wanted to go and see how it looked like in the inside. Obviously, the movie was shot more than fifteen years ago and a lot of changes has been done to the Mansion, but deep inside I keep thinking, “is the vibe still the same?”

Maybe lending more allure to the mystery of Chungking Mansions was the gently-phrased reminders when planning to book rooms in any of the many guesthouses inside it: “be cautious”, “keep safe”, “for the brave” — these are the common reminders I see on booking and review forums.

In one of my earliest trips to Hong Kong (maybe about 3 years ago), I spent a great deal riding the Mid-Level Escalators in Central, trying to guess the exact apartment used as Tony Leung’s apartment in the movie. I took a quick jaunt at Lan Kwai Fong and even tried looking for the place where Midnight Express used to be (heard it’s now a 7-11). In my head, “California Dreaming” was playing in full blast.

Last year, I finally had the chance to see Chungking Mansions in the flesh. Gone is the dark facade — instead, the front of the building sported new lights and a refurbished green colored glass panels. It glowed like a huge emerald, vying for attention along Nathan Road.

Finally, we meet...
Finally, we meet…

Like the sissy that I was, I never found the courage to go inside and explore Chungking Mansions in its entirety. Maybe, I needed a trench coat and a blond wig.

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