Chungking Express and Godard

Everything, MDA 1700 Film Communicating in Film: Styles and Movements

It is quite obvious that ‘Kar Wai Won’, the director of ‘Chungking Express’ (1994) is influenced heavily by ‘Jean Luc Godard’ and french new wave cinema. Not only is Chungking Express similar, stylistically, to Godard’s work, but it is also influenced both thematically and in it’s narrative. Here are some similarities between Chungking Express and Godard’s 1960 film ‘Breathless’

Cinematography

Chungking Express borrows many camera techniques from Breathless; handheld camera shots help give both films their gritty, realistic feel. This, accompanied with the long takes during dialogue scenes gives the camera a human personality. The camera feels like an extra presence in the room. Both films also incorporate many big close ups on character’s faces, emphasising their facial expressions. These techniques ultimately bring the audience closer to the characters, letting them empathise with, and understand them on a more human level, as they observe the scene from the perspective of another character (as opposed to simply observing characters through an omniscient camera, with no personality, as you do while watching a Kubrick film).

Editing

The most noticeable similarity between the two films are the frequent use of jump cuts to progress time, and communicate information. Breathless is famous for being one of the first films to use jump cuts as a stylistic element, and a regular form of narrative exposition. The editing style in Chungking Express is directly influenced by Godard. The film also uses other editing techniques such as freeze frames, recurring imagery and montage which are all present throughout Godard’s work.

Themes

The narrative of these films are both driven entirely by one underlying theme; love. Both films follow characters who have fallen in love with someone, yet this love isn’t exactly mutual. In Breathless, the girl, whom the male protagonist loves, turns him into the police, resulting in his death at the end of the film. In Chungking Express, both love stories are left open-ended and ambiguous. Love is both complicated and dangerous within these stories.

Performance 

Both of these films have very naturalistic performances and dialogue. There are often scenes within the films where two characters are having normal, everyday conversations which don’t necessarily have much to do with narrative progression. This, accompanied by the cinematography, gives the characters a real sense of authenticity.

The locations

Streets, small cafes and bedrooms. These films are set in two of the most photogenic, aesthetically pleasing cities on Earth; Hong Kong and Paris, and yet the film-makers have chosen not to portray these cities as the grand, extravagant metropolises that they are known as. We see little of the famous landmarks and buildings that are associated with these locations. Why? Because the film follows realistic, everyday citizens. These people wouldn’t be visiting these tourist attractions if they live in these cities. The choice of small, humble locations adds to the overall realism of the films.

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