Wonderstruck v Chungking Express - Dawn of Cinematic Greatness
It's been a while since I last posted, but I'm finally getting back into the writing game and could not be happier to return with a piece that encompasses my passion for Hong Kong cinema, superheroes and Hollywood, all in the opening title. The title's a bit lame and over-the-top, I know, but it's been a while and I'm certainly not too proud to admit that I may be a bit rusty!
For those who are new to this site, I'm a huge fan of TIFF's Reel Talk series and think it's by far the best way to start off your Sunday mornings. The 2017-2018 season of Reel Talk officially kicked off this morning, and everyone who managed to wake up early enough got to see Todd Haynes' Wonderstruck. I won't go into a full review of this fantastic piece of work, but would like to elaborate on how Wonderstruck reminded me of one of my all time favourites - Chungking Express. Without spoiling either one of these masterpieces (both of which should be added onto your essential viewing list if you haven't already seen them), let's just say that both Wonderstruck and Chungking Express juxtapose two seemingly separate stories into a single film, almost as if there are two separate movies being played at the very same time. And very naturally, the viewing experience revolves around figuring out how the two stories fit together.
In the end, Wonderstruck produces a much more narratively cohesive connection between its two stories, but that isn't the most fascinating or rewarding part about 'figuring out' the connection. And that's because what binds the two separate stories together isn't necessarily the storyline itself; its the use of the cinematic art form in a perfectionist way. Even before the final narrative review that pieces together the two stories, Todd Haynes has already created so many emotional and technical similarities between the two narratives that a connection is already formed. The premise invites the viewer to look for similarities and connections between the two stories, and the art of cinema serves as the mesh that forms those connections.
Chungking Express does the exact same thing, and perhaps some of my personal bias for Wong Kar Wai is coming through here, but I'd say that Grandmaster Wong does it with even more precision and expertise. I've written about my admiration for Chungking Express before, and won't rehash too much of what I've already said before. But to quickly summarize how I feel, this is essentially a film that puts its viewers on a search for something that might very well not be there. And truth be told, the connection between the two stories within Chungking Express is quite thin on the surface. But because Wong Kar Wai is just so damn good, you unknowingly find your own way of connecting the two stories together. And every connection you latch onto is a direct result of what the cinematic art form has to offer, and a reminder of how powerful this medium can be.
I don't think anyone can ever make a movie like Chungking Express ever again (not even Wong Kar Wai himself!), but this morning, thanks to Reel Talk and Todd Haynes, I got a glimpse of how I might be proven wrong. Wonderstruck is a prime example of what cinematic greatness should look and feel like, and I am certain more and more people will come to this conclusion once the film gets its wide release. And finally, it just wouldn't be right if I didn't mention the film's two incredible leading thespians. Millicent Simmonds and Oakes Fegley are both absolute giants on screen, and give amazing performances that are on par with their adult contemporaries. Get excited about Wonderstruck, and watch it when you get a chance.