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The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Mise en scene In ChungKing Express

No one can escape from the instinct loneliness of life , wherever you go, whatever you do.
Chungking Express , a Wong Kar Wai film, consists of two unrequited love stories.
Two strangers , with surprisingly similar life experienced different romantic frustrations.
The film began with a voice-over,We rub shoulder every day...although we may not know
one another now , it may be possible to be friends some day. Though filled with
depression and pessimism, it revealed characters enthusiasm towards life, a live in the
moment value. The two principal characters never knew each other, they used to wipe a
shoulder but lead in the rootless refugee city 1----Hong Kong. Quite Subtle, the end of the
first story overlapped with the beginning of the second story.
In this essay, Im going to talk about how the film creates urban dwellers loneliness by
using color , space and cinematography. What s more , how the director used the
synthetic images of time to show the failure of communication between characters.
Film started with shots of sky, steel blue, pre-dawn then twilight (figure1), rendering a
sentimental feeling. We saw the cloud flowing in the gap made by contours of dilapidated
houses. We saw the world in the way of an urban concrete jungle where the stories
took place. If you watch carefully you will find that all the scene in the first story are at night
, thus there only had 4 color, black and blue for the sky and shops , unnatural green in He
Qiwus house(figure2), and orange in the bar.

Figure 1

Figure 2

Figure 3

As we all know, cool color gives out a feeling of coldness and loneliness. Such color
intuitively creates the oppressive atmosphere of street life in a thriving metropolis. The
nobody , lovelorn HE Qiwu in the film , seemed live in the endless darkness untill he met
the woman in a blonde wig. It was the moment that there came the only warm
color(figure3) , orange lights in the bar. This can be regarded as the brightness which
finally appears in HE life , or in other words , his hope.
Space was very limited in this film , I think the director made it on purpose. Two primary
places were the fast food restaurant The Midnight Express and the convenience store
Kent. The two places represented nowadays fast-food culture whose characteristics
were fast , convenient and lack of interpersonal communication. Living in such
environment the urban dwellers definitely feel lonely.

Damian Grammaticas, BBC Hong Kong correspondent.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Mise en scene In ChungKing Express
Besides ,the way the director shoots the characters was quite similar, they were placed in

Figure 4

the gap(figure 4).From the gap,we clearly saw that the character was alone. It emphasized
the individual , implying that everyone is a separate individual in the world and in a lifetime.
Another method to create characters desolation is by using high angle shot (figure 5) and
canted angle shot (figure 6). The high angle shot highlights a sense of space. The
proportion of figure and space is quite incommensurable ,as we see the character is very
small in the camera.(figure 5) The disparity emphasizes the insignificance of the character
and attracts audience s sympathy. In figure 6 the camera is obviously canted, symbolizing
the imbalance of HEs life. HE Qiwu huddled in the corner decadently, he lost the gravity of
his life.

Figure 5

Figure 6

About cinematography , I would like to analyze one typical scene -----the opening
sequence where HE Qiwu is running through a background that is totally blurred.(figure 7)
His movements seem to be staggered or disjointed, yet he is visible and in focus.
In contrast, his surroundings are a mere blur of
colors and movement. This scene is shot at doublespeed 48 fps, and played back at 24 fps through the
projector. 2 In this way the director shows his feeling
of Hongkong that it is too fast-paced. When one
runs so fast , the surrounding becomes ambiguous.
People lose their identities , becoming rootless.
Figure 7
Chungking Express:Time and its Displacements by Janice Tong in Chinese Film in Focus: 25 New Takes,
edited by Chris Berry

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Mise en scene In ChungKing Express
Wang Kai-wai is famous for his ability to catch the spirit of time3, whats more, he makes
the abstract time visible. Chungking Express bears this out. The film drew the synthetic
images of time by using objects , lines voice-over and characters eye contact.
What is the first object occurs to you when thinking about time? Of course , clock. In the
film ,there appeared several 3 times close-up of an old-fashioned electronic flip-card
clock.(figure 8) Each shots was exactly at the change over moment. It seemed the time
was moving forward ,but for HE Qiwu, time was running out. It was a countdown, a
deadline he set for his romance. In this way , we experienced the frustration of the boy
who helplessly saw the expiration day coming around. In addition to clock there were
other objects which can show the time passing such as the flowing cloud , the increasing
wineglass in front of HE(figure 9). All the above mentioned drew a graphic image of the
unceasing time.

Figure 8

Figure 9

The lines in Chungking Express are quite characteristic.

At our closest point , we were just 0.1 centimeters apart...57hours later,I fall in
love with this woman.
Just 0.01 of a centimeter between us. I knew nothing about her. But 6 hours
later... she fell in love with another man.
The non-diegetic sound was filled with number and unit ,which made time more precise.
Finally I want to analyze a classical scene that used characters eye contact to make
temporal dislocation visible. A two-shot of 663 and Faye.(figure 10) 663 was leaning
against the side of the counter ,staring into the distance. Faye motionlessly watched him
drink his coffee. No eye contact.She was watching him ,but he didt see ,for he had
plunged into the past, into his memory. They were deep in their own thought , in different
time and space.4
Every characters have their own time fragments , some never meet , some merge.

Mazierska and Rascaroli ,Trapped in the Present, 3

Chungking Express:Time and its Displacements by Janice Tong in Chinese Film in Focus: 25 New Takes,
edited by Chris Berry

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Mise en scene In ChungKing Express

Figure 10

In conclusion, all the mise en scene in Chungking Express tend to restore the unimportant
persons street life in contemporary Hongkong. The use of cool color , compositional
unbalance and creative shooting techniques not only set a blue keynote to the whole film ,
but also reveal the inevitable loneliness of urban citizens. Besides, the delicate
lines ,perfect acting ,together ,create pieces of time fragments which obstruct characters
from achieving their happiness. I regard the theme of the film as being. Characters are all
trying to master the unbearable lightness of the present moment ,to possess what cant be
possessed , the passing of beauty and successful emotional expression.5However , they
still live a life,lonely but hopeful ,as we all do.


Express:Time and its Displacements by Janice Tong in Chinese Film in Focus: 25 New Takes,
edited by Chris Berry