International Cinema Thursday: Chungking Express and Russian Ark



Since pretty much everything ever has already been said about Russian Ark, let me go ahead and cite the only fact that you need to know in order to want to see it. The entire 96 minute movie is a single steadicam shot. Don't know what that means? It means that the whole movie is acted out with no cuts, shot editing, or time lapse. It's basically a sprawling, intricately choreographed play. Absolutely amazing. See it tomorrow or twice on Saturday.


Chungking Express is a film by Wong Kar-wai, who is to Chinese cinema what Akira Kurosawa was to Japanese cinema. It has been called one of the best Asian films of all time by Sight & Sound Quarterly.

The Chinese title (重庆森林) literally translates to "Chungking Jungle" which should instantly remind you of The Asphalt Jungle. Don't think of that though, because it's entirely different.

What you should think of is the fact that so much of this season's movies at IC are dedicated to understanding and portraying Chinese culture. Just this week is a movie about Yundi Li. Next week is From Mao to Mozart. We're exploring Chinese cinema and culture and it's because of films like Chungking Express which provided the necessary Westernized touchstone for America to begin its (albeit distant) love affair with China all over again (I'm lookin' at you De Quincey). Produced by Quentin Tarantino's Rolling Thunder Pictures, it's pretty easy to see why it would be warmly received by 90's hipsters (with goatees).

Why is any of this important now though? I don't know. We could talk about Wong Kar-wai symbolizing a place of Chinese originality with broad appeal in Chinese cinema, the first since Tsang Shu Shuen and Hong Kong New Wave. Or we could discuss how much of a departure Kar-wai's films are from the typical Hong Kong softcore porn or cultist-pandering martial arts flicks.

In the end, does any of that really matter? It's a fun and intriguing film that has, in some way, bridged the gap between the East and the West for the past 16 years and will continue to do so in the future.



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