Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Robert Duffin reviews his ten favourite films, Part 2

Chungking Express
1994 Hong Kong
Director: Wong Kar Wai
Screenwriter: Wong Kar Wai
Runtime: 102 mins
Certificate: 12
DVD Distributor: Artificial Eye DVD

Wong Kar Wai emerged over the last decade as the most artistically adventurous filmmaker in Hong Kong cinema, and Chungking Express was his international debut. It’s a charming meditation on love in the post-modern environment, where relationships are defined by time and space. In a favourite scene we see Faye staring longingly at Cop 633 drinking coffee as pedestrians on the street move at hyper speed around them. Wong’s fresh visual style reinforces his themes as we see these characters as if they were trapped in time, lost and isolated from the world around them.

The wonderful performances in the film define whimsical romance. Takeshi Kaneshiro’s Cop 223 buys tins of pineapples every day for a month all with the expiration date of May 1st which is the day he has set aside for the end of his current romantic relationship. Cop 633 talks to inanimate objects in his house to project his own sadness, I giggle every time he laments to his bar of soap how much weight it has lost since he first bought it. Finally there is the elfin Faye whom Wong captures in improvised moments of perfection. We see her using salad tongs as drums as she mimes along to California Dreamin’ and re-imagining screwball comedies as she sneaks into Cop 633’s apartment to give him new pet fish.

It’s a film that flaunts my desire of an equal correlation between plot and style, but it is such a rush I’ll forgive it. It was released the same year as Pulp Fiction, and while Tarantino’s stylistic cool won over the worldwide box office, the similarly experimental narrative of Chungking Express is achingly romantic and more importantly has an enduring soul.

USA 1992
Director: Clint Eastwood

Screenwriter: David Webb Peoples
Runtime: 126 mins
Certificate: 15
DVD Distributor: Warner Home Video

The opening scenes of Unforgiven reveal a sorry sight. We see an old bedraggled cowboy rolling around in the mud with the hogs, unable to shoot a can from ten yards and incapable of even mounting his steed. This isn’t just any cowboy; it’s the haggard face of Josey Wales, Blondie, Monco, Walt Coogan or however you best know Clint Eastwood. Here he is William Munney, a farmer whose wicked ways have been long neutralised by the societal integration never afforded to the likes of The Searchers’ Ethan Edwards, yet he is about to discover violence is like a disease in remission.

Unforgiven remains Clint Eastwood’s greatest triumph as a director and actor, and is my favourite Western. For so long seen as the genre of definitive oppositions, Cowboy and Indian, good and evil, moral ambiguity pervades the story here. Munney and partner Ned are nominally the good guys but are both notorious killers, and the sadistic Sheriff Little Bill is ostensibly the villain yet all he really wants is a gun free town.

My favourite scene takes place in Big Whiskey’s jail as Little Bill deconstructs the character of the assassin English Bob. The nebbish biographer Beauchamp is shocked to learn that one of Bob’s famed killings was in fact a charade; he didn’t win quick draw, instead his foe’s gun backfired. If the Old West was defined by printing the legend, Unforgiven is interested in the less glamorous truth.

The finale, drenched in rain and Eastwood’s trademark shadow lighting, is a thrilling rewrite of the traditional gun-blazing climax. While Munney’s implausible execution of Little Bill’s gang gives rise to the traditional mythic gunslinger, his descent into violence marks a fall from grace destroying the romanticised aura. Eastwood uses the Western as the arena to play out one of cinema’s most thrilling morality tales.

Read Part 3 tomorrow!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Nebbish", eh? Don't say I haven't taught you anything!