"Chungking Express": The Blu-ray

Glenn Kenny
I have to admit: when I learned that among the first Blu-ray releases from Criterion would be their newly remastered version of Wong Kar-Wai's 1994 Chungking Express, I was slightly puzzled. Don't get me wrong—the film, shot by Andrew Lau and Christopher Doyle, is breathtakingly beautiful. But its beauty is largely of an impressionistic sort. The blurred slow-motion (produced via optical printing rather than speeding up the camera), the graininess of the natural light shots at dusk, the rush produced by the fast cuts and the whip pans—all salutory qualities, but not necessarily the sort of thing to wow certain home theater enthusiasts. I figured the company would come out of the Blu-ray box with something more conventionally impressive; The Last Emperor, say, maybe even Godard's Contempt (I saw sections of the latter in High-Definition at Criterion's New York offices, and it's staggering).

Well, I needn't have been concerned, in any respect. Criterion's Blu-ray of Chungking Express is a revelation. It should thrill cinephiles and tech wonks in equal measure. My camera-shot screen grabs are pretty poor approximations of how the disc presents the film but should give you some sense of it.
Pretty much every frame of the film is packed with vivid, contrasting colors, and one of the strengths of the high-def version is how fixed and solid the colors are. Flesh tones are beautifully exact. (The tones above belong to Faye Wong.) FIlm grain, a bedbug of certain high-def advocates, is spectacularly intact, as the top screen shot attests. Indeed, Chungking Express is one of those films that thoroughly  vindicates something film preservationist Robert Harris once said to me: "The grain is the picture."

I haven't delved in to all the extras yet, but did enjoy Tony Rayns' typically well-informed audio commentary. The disc was released in tandem with three other Blu-rays: The Man Who Fell To Earth, The Third Man, and Bottle Rocket. Each, in its own way, is as much of a revelation as Chungking. Bottom line: a fantastic Blu-ray debut from Criterion and a very strong argument for cinephiles to consider embracing the format.
Cross-posted (in slightly different form) at Some Came Running (somecamerunning.typepad.com)


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