Chungking Express

  • Reviewed by: Bill Hunt
  • Review Date: Nov 24, 2008
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Director

Wong Kar-wai

Release Date(s)

1994 (December 16, 2008)

Studio(s)

Miramax (Criterion - Spine #453)

Review

Okay... first things’s first.  Chungking Express is quite possibly director Wong Kar-wai’s best film.  Set in Hong Kong on the verge of the Chinese government takeover from the British, this evocative, neo-noirish tale presents not one but two unique love stories in dream-like fashion, each interesting and emotionally affecting in its way.

Our own Rob Hale reviewed this film when it was released on DVD back in 2003, so I’ll let his review speak for itself.  Suffice it to say that I love and appreciate Chunking Express now every bit as much as Rob did then.  It’s just a wonderful and unexpectedly captivating little film.  What you guys really want to know is: Is this first Blu-ray Disc release from The Criterion Collection worth the wait?  The answer, I’m delighted to say, is absolutely!

Simply put, this is one of the most deliciously film-like images I’ve seen on Blu-ray to date.  Criterion clearly took their time getting this transfer right, and the color, contrast and image detail all benefit tremendously from their efforts.  That’s not to say that this looks like... say, Wall-E on Blu-ray... but it’s not meant to.  You’ll see light to moderate grain, for one thing, as you’d expect from an art house film.  But the transfer has been so carefully prepared, I actually forgot I was looking at a Blu-ray Disc.  The presentation is almost transparent – I felt as if I were watching actual film projection in a theatre.  The little nuances and subtleties visible in this image are just really satisfying, right down to the optional English subtitles, which have such a soft, natural-looking quality to the text that you’d almost think they were part of the film image itself.  I should note that the image is slightly pillar-boxed, with an aspect ratio of 1.66:1.  The audio mix is also well presented, benefiting from a lively and immersive DTS-HD mix of excellent clarity.  I have absolutely no complaints – this is a wonderful A/V experience from start to finish.

There isn’t a lot in terms of extras, but all of the DVD bonus material is here and it’s all good.  Included is a thoughtful (and indexed) audio commentary track featuring Asian cinema critic Tony Rayns, the 12-minute Moving Pictures interview with the director and cinematographer (in SD) and the film’s theatrical trailer (in full HD).  The menus are elegant, as you’d expect from Criterion, and the load icon is the Criterion logo itself.  The disc also includes a nice booklet with photos and an essay by critic Amy Taubin, and the packaging is a tasteful Digipack with a simple cardboard slipcase.  It features the artwork pictured above with a quality matte finish, and is of similar size to a standard Blu-ray plastic case.  Best of all, you get all of this for the same price as the DVD version, making the purchase decision delightfully easy to justify.

I’ll tell you... this is one of the most pleasing Blu-ray experiences I’ve had this year.  If Chungking Express is an indication of the kind of picture and sound quality we can expect on future Blu-rays from Criterion, then I can’t wait to see the next one.  Bravo!

- Bill Hunt

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