Let's spend this time loving the lovers in Wong Kar-Wai's films. And this will be time well spent because SIFF is streaming four films from Kar-Wai's peak (1994 to 2000). During this time, the Hong Kong director made Chungking Express, Fallen Angels, Happy Together, and In the Mood for Love. In each of these works (or worlds) are people in different states of love. In Happy Together, two Hong Kong men have turbulent days and turbulent nights in the city they are visiting, Buenos Aires. In In The Mood for Love, everything is in love: colors are in love, the sharp-looking clothes are in love, even the old and worn wallpaper is still in love.
With Fallen Angels, the elusive or even airy stuff of love becomes, at the end of the film, a puff of smoke that drifts up from a cigarette into the growing air behind a man and woman on a motorbike. They are exiting a tunnel at some early time in the morning. She has just eaten noodles. The city is not yet awake. His motorbike roars with all of its power. The glass towers surrounding the tunnel's opening reflect the blue light of a new day. I rate this is as one of the most heartbreakingly beautiful moments in the history of cinema.
But the visual power of the lover's smoke in Fallen Angles plays second fiddle to the cans of lovesickness in Kar-Wai's masterpiece Chungking Express. The film, released in the final years of Hong Kong's independence from the Chinese Communist Party, has two stories, one of which concerns a police offer, Cop 223, whose heart has been recently broken.
Now, a human really has two cultures: one that's entirely of their own making and is never (or is hardly) shared; and one that's shared with others. The first relates the self to the self, the second, the self to a society that is itself composed of those who, too, have two cultures. In part one of Chungking Express, we enter a drama that's set in the self-to-self culture.
The self is Cop 223. He fell in love with a flight attendant. She fell out of love with him. On April 1, Cop 223 was notified by the flight attendant of her determination to end the affair. Because he was not ready for this bad news, it hit him so hard his heart broke in two and his self fell into that negative eternity I call lovesickness. This is a terrible place to be in. When there—the middle of lovesickness—your self-to-self tries to make some sense of the situation. It wants to be helpful. It looks for patterns in the pieces of the smashed relationship like a detective or a dream, and when it finds one: it offers it to you, the self of the self-to-self, as something that might be supportive.
This is exactly what happens in Chungking Express. Cop 223's self-to-self culture constructs connections and commitments that, though they help him cope with all of the grief-hungry hurt inside, would look weird or silly in the self-to-social context. It's best to keep these internally determined patterns to yourself. And this is what Cop 223 does, when his self-to-self connects the flight attendant's name, May, to a specific date stamped on pineapple cans in a convenience store near his apartment, May 1.
Cop 223 forms an inner culture that's devoted to only those cans. The preserved yellow slices of fruit from some tropical place become the grief he can consume. When a can is opened, he consumes and even savors lovesickness. But one day, his inner culture is rattled by an unexpected change in the world of the self-to-society.
What you will not find elsewhere in cinema are pineapple cans that provide direct access to a culture that's always kept inside and often all one has to keep from falling apart when a heart has been broken.