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Chungking Express Blu-ray impressions


A bulging chest of swag was hauled aboard the HMS Whimsy today, including separate packages from the far lands of Germany and the United States of America. The former contained Blu-ray Disc releases of Fight Club and The Constant Gardener (both locked to Region B, I’m sorry to report), while the latter contained my first ever Criterion BD, Wong Kar-Wai’s Chungking Express.

I watched this tonight and, sacreligious as it will no doubt sound, I’m afraid it did very little for me. This is not a case where I can point to individual elements and say “this didn’t work” or “that didn’t sit well with me”: I can’t really criticise the film at all, and yet it just left me completely cold. It was as if there was some sort of barrier between myself and the film that prevented me from connecting with it. It just came and went and, to borrow a saying from my brother, “I don’t regret watching it but I don’t care if I never see it again.” I suppose some films are just like that: you can’t please anyone, and you’d be foolish to try, but (and here I’m only tightening the noose around my neck) I enjoyed My Blueberry Nights considerably more. Given my apparently-notorious dislike of most anime (while I love a lot of Western animation), perhaps it’s a cultural thing.

As far as the BD itself is concerned, I strongly doubt that this is going to be a demo title for anyone’s collection. As with my reaction to the film itself, I can’t pinpoint anything “wrong” with it per se, but, I suspect due to the limitations inherent in the source material, it basically looks completely natural without ever being overly impressive. I don’t doubt that it’s a completely faithful reproduction of the materials, but in that case the source materials can’t have been particularly amazing to begin with. It’s therefore extremely difficult to know how to rate a title like this. Taking into account faithfulness to the original materials, it’s probably a “10”, but, ignoring such concerns and concentrating on pure aesthetics, it would be considerably lower.

Sorry if this post comes across as overly negative. I have a huge amount of respect for Criterion’s dilligent efforts to retain a filmic look in the home video environment, but something we have to bear in mind is that a lot of the films in their catalogue, due to their very nature, simply aren’t going to have the “wow” factor in HD. That’s something to bear in mind when evaluating the quality of their discs. That said, it never ceases to amaze me how willing reviewers are to give Criterion the benefit of the doubt. I’ve yet to read a review of this disc that gives the image quality anything less than a glowing appraisal, and yet I feel pretty certain that, if the likes of Universal were to put out exactly the same disc, many would be calling it a sloppy effort and demanding that a new master be struck (ignoring the fact that a new master was created this year).

PS. If I hear the song California Dreamin’ one more time, I may inflict physical violence on the first person I find.

Chungking Express
studio: Criterion; country: USA; region code: A;
codec: AVC; file size: 29.2 GB; average bit rate: 40.66 Mbit/sec

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Posted: Thursday, December 11, 2008 at 11:32 PM | Comments: 4
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | Technology



I agree with all your criticisms about Chungking Express. I wouldn't mind though if Faye Wong began stalking me. She's a major cutie in this film.

Posted by: Sound Designer Dan, December 12, 2008 3:06 AM


I liked the film but its not a favorite. From what I understand, Wong Kar Wai started making it during a slowdown on another film and that there were originally supposed to be three stories instead of two. As far as the look of the film, I haven't seen the BD, but I think other releases I've seen (the Miramax disc and the Korean disc - a new director-approved transfer) do reflect the limitations of the production.

I didn't mind "California Dreamin'" what annoyed me was Faye Wong's cover of The Cranberries' "Dreams" a song which I can't stand in any language.

Posted by: , December 12, 2008 4:28 AM


It should also be noted that since Criterion don't actually own the rights to any films, they don't have access to the same source material either. I'm not sure how much of a difference it would make, but I think virtually none of their releases are from scans of original negatives, instead being mostly from interpositives/negatives or even prints.

Artificial Eye are also releasing Chungking in January, would be interesting to see how they fared against the Criterion (their first releases, Zatoichi and Hidden/Caché, did not seem particularly good though.)

Posted by: Paku, December 12, 2008 10:23 PM


Thanks for the heads-up on Artificial Eye’s Chungking Express, Paku. Definitely worth adding to my rental queue at any rate.

Posted by: Michael Mackenzie, December 12, 2008 10:25 PM

Comments on this entry and all entries up to and including June 30th 2009 have been closed. The discussion continues on the new Land of Whimsy blog:


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