Lovesick cops of ‘Chungking Express’ bring psychological pick-me-up at Pacific Film Archive

True love saves the day in Wong Kar Wai’s classic ‘Chungking Express,’ scheduled to screen 7 p.m. Saturday at the Pacific Film Archive.

Chungking Express. Credit: Pacific Film Archive

Throughout the darkest days of the pandemic — which, we tremulously hope, are finally behind us — Pacific Film Archive provided homebound viewers with a generous selection of films via their “Watch From Home” streaming service. Now that the Archive is once again hosting visitors, it’s playing some of those same films in person at the Barbro Osher auditorium — including Wong Kar Wai’s wonderful romantic dramedy, Chung Hing sam lam (Chungking Express, 1994), scheduled to screen at 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 10.

The sort of feel-good movie we badly needed over the course of the last many months, Chungking Express may feature an awkward narrative structure and a little too much of Wong’s trademark stroboscopic photography, but it’s still one of my go-to films when I need a psychological pick-me-up. Comprising two unrelated but thematically similar tales of Hong Kong police officers who find themselves romantically involved with mysterious women, the film starts out on a dark note but reaches toward — and eventually arrives at — the light of true love 100 minutes later.

In story No. 1, heartsick young policeman He Qiwu (Takeshi Kaneshiro) falls for a mysterious woman in a blonde wig (Brigitte Lin) who, unbeknownst to him, is operating on the wrong side of the law. Emulating the look of Barbara Stanwyck in Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity, Lin’s character is involved in some very shady business, but Qiwu doesn’t know that when he tries to pick her up at a bar. Complications — none of them deadly — ensue.

Story No. 2 stars sad-eyed Tony Chiu Wai Leung as veteran copper Badge 663, currently on the rebound after a fruitless fling with an air hostess. Spending his breaks at the same lunch counter every day, 663 catches the eye of pixie-like restaurant employee Faye (Faye Wong), who constantly blasts The Mamas and the Papas’ California Dreaming at high volume while cleaning the kitchen and serving customers.

Faye develops what some might consider an unhealthy obsession with 663, but all’s well that ends well in Chungking Express’s implausible but heartily satisfying conclusion. I’m not much of a romantic, but even my flinty heart melts every time I hear the Chinese language version of The Cranberries Dreams that accompanies the film’s final reel. Cinema magic at its finest!

I haven’t seen much recent African cinema, so I’m delighted to report that the five short films collectively screening as AfroFuturistik at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 14, at San Francisco’s Roxie Theater suggest the continent’s filmmakers have recently been producing work as aesthetically bold and interesting as anything from Europe, Asia or the Americas.

I was especially impressed by C.J. (Fiery) Obasi’s Hello, Rain — a Nigerian warning to never mix juju with technology — and the mononymous Baloji’s Zombies, a lively salute to the wonders of cell phones and virtual reality from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Perhaps the most satisfying film, though, is the shortest — Kenya’s We Need Prayers: This One Went to Market, a wry 7-minute look at an African artist’s adaptation to the ways of white collectors and art patrons.

John Seal has lived in Oakland since 1981 and has been writing for Berkeleyside since 2009. He spends his spare time watching and reading about movies.