CHUNGKING EXPRESS: Fabula and Syuzhet
Chungking Express (1994) by Wong Kar-Wai is a Hong Kong Drama told in the sequence of two separate (and yet conjoined) stories. It tells the stories of two love-struck cops and their individual love journeys.
The film is comprised of two different stories, told one after the other, each about a romance involving a policeman. Except for a brief moment when they interconnect, which is when the first story ends and the second begins, the two stories do not overlap.
The First Story:
The first story concerns Cop 223. Qiwu’s girlfriend May broke up with him on 1 April. His birthday is 1 May and he chooses to wait for May for a month before moving on. Every day he buys a tin of pineapple with an expiration date of 1 May. By the end of this time, he feels that he will either be rejoined with his love or that it will have expired forever. Meanwhile, a mysterious woman in a blonde wig tries to survive in the drug underworld after her smuggling operation goes sour.
On 1 May, Qiwu, looking for romance, approaches the woman in the blonde wig at a bar. However, she is exhausted and falls asleep in the hotel room that he rents, leaving him to watch old movies alone all night and order take-out food. He shines her shoes before he leaves her sleeping on the bed. She leaves in the morning and shoots the drug baron, also her boyfriend who was cheating on her with another woman and who had set her up. Qiwu goes jogging and receives a message from her on his pager wishing him a happy birthday. He then visits his usual snack food store where he collides with a new staff member, Faye. At this point, a new story begins.
The Second Story:
In the second story, Cop 663 is also dealing with a breakup, this time with a flight attendant. He meets Faye, the new girl at the snack bar. She secretly falls for him. The air hostess waits for the cop around the snack bar, and finds out he is on his day off. She leaves a letter for the snack bar owner to give to the cop. Everyone in the snack bar reads the letter, which is assumed to be the flight attendant’s way of telling the cop that their relationship is over. The envelope also has a spare set of keys to the cop’s apartment.
Faye uses the keys to frequently break into his apartment by day to redecorate and “improve” his living situation. She finally tells him of the letter but he keeps delaying taking it or even reading it. Gradually, her ploys help him to cheer up, and he eventually realizes that Faye likes him and arranges a date at the restaurant “California”. Faye, however, never shows up for the date, and the snack bar’s owner, who is her cousin, goes to the restaurant to tell the cop that Faye left for California. Standing the cop up after a last-minute decision to see the world before settling down, she leaves him a boarding pass drawn on a paper napkin postdated one year later.
In the last scene, Faye, now a flight attendant, returns to Hong Kong. She finds that the cop has bought the snack bar and is converting it into a restaurant. He asks her to stay for the grand opening in a couple of days, but she says she does not know if she can. 663 then asks if she can send him a postcard if she leaves, but she says he wouldn’t read it anyway. As Faye’s about to leave, he gets the boarding pass she gave him a year ago, wrinkled and water-stained, and asks if anyone will accept it. She doubts it and writes him up a new one. Faye asks him where he wants to go with the boarding pass, and 663 says he’ll go wherever she wants to take him.
The timeline actually begins in the past when Cops 223 and 663 were dating May (who loves pineapples) and the Air Hostess, respectively. Cop 223 loses his girlfriend on April 1st. Cop 223 becomes obsessed with buying pineapple cans that expire on the date of his birthday, May 1st, as he hopes to be back together with the never-pictured May by that time. This is also significant because this deadline represents the idea that everything in his life should become stabilized and normal. Around the same time, between the day or night before May 1st, in a bid to forget May, Cop 223 eats thirty cans of pineapples and then goes drinking in a bar. Vowing to fall in love with the first woman who walks in, he becomes infatuated with a blond drug dealer, who has a penchant for sunglasses and raincoat. Drunk, they spend a chaste night together in a hotel room. Cop 663 at this time has been visiting the Midnight Express buying meals, normally a Chef’s salad, for his beloved hostess. By this time, Faye, the waitress at the Midnight Express has developed feelings for the frequent customer, Cop 663.
The blond woman, seeing her Caucasian boyfriend cheating on her with another woman, who wears a blond wig, kills him and runs away. She is spotted by the drug mules that escaped her and they chase her with intentions to kill. Soon, Cop 223 shows up and saves her. The blonde, still leaves him. Later, however, in the midst of Cop 223’s run, she leaves him a birthday message. That evening, leaving the Midnight Express on May 1st, Cop 223 says in reference to Fae who worked the counter at the Express, “At the high point of our intimacy, we were just 0.01cm from each other. I knew nothing about her. Six hours later, she fell in love with another man.”
This means that in six hours of their passing, the romance between Cop 663 and Faye began to blossom. One evening, at the owner’s suggestion, Cop 663 buys Fish and Chips for his girlfriend instead of salad. When Cop 663 returns to the Express we learn that his girlfriend dumped him, and he blames it on the fish and chips. Faye is sad to see Cop 663 so depressed but her curiosity his piqued as to his availability.
Faye begins to sneak into Cop 663’s house to clean and remove signs of the past, while falling even more strongly in love with him. Similarly, Cop 663 starts becoming attracted to Faye as he helps her with her chores for her Cousin at the Midnight Express and later catches her at his house. After what seems like a few days time, to a weeks time, Cop 663 asks Faye to eat out with him at the California restaurant. Faye arrives an hour early and decides to go to the real California to find herself before settling down.
A year later, Cop 663 has bought the Midnight Express from Faye’s Cousin and Faye has returned as an airline hostess. Their relationship is consolidated as they find that they actually can love each other for who they are, unlike the shallowness of Cop 663’s original relationship which was purely lust based.