Skip to main content

15th April 2024

An evening with UoM Film Society and Chungking Express

A crowded university building full of students ready to watch a Wong Kar-wai film and an earworm of a song
Categories: ,
An evening with UoM Film Society and Chungking Express
Credit: UoM Film Society logo @ UoM Film Society

“I’d be safe and warm,
If I was in LA,
California dreamin’,
On such a winters day’’- The Mamas & the Papas 1965

The day UoM Film Soc screened Chungking Express was just as miserable as it was that day in New York when Mamas and Papas stared out their apartment windows, writing ‘California Dreamin”. When home is a distant memory away. If you don’t like this song, you probably won’t like Chungking Express

The song’s repetitiveness in nearly every moment of the film’s second half is either going to have you euphoric or miserable. Yet, I can’t help thinking that some of these features, such as how charmingly annoying the soundtrack choices are, have become part of why this isn’t an easy film for anyone to forget. 

I’ve seen it four times and of each viewing, I possess memories that have and will remain vivid. This feeling is probably the same one the society’s committee members have, which may be why they’ve honoured it by selecting it to be its second screening of the year. Not the second of 2024 alas but the second screening since September. 

It had become a joke that the UoM Film Society was not real. I found that one out first-hand when I spent an hour looking for their table during Freshers’ week at the cursed societies fair. Yet they’ve seemed this term to be bothered to pull themselves together, with a Valentine’s Day screening of Portrait of a Lady on Fire and recent back-to-back screenings of Grave of the Fireflies and Y tu mamá también

As well as what seemed like a protest screening against democracy of Spike Jonze’s Her in the room next door. When a vote happened in the WhatsApp group chat film poll; it had come dead last. Even somehow behind La La Land. I realised when I got there this was a joke, but it says enough about the society that I and a handful of others took this seriously and yet, somehow, do not feel even slightly gullible for doing so.

When my friends and I eventually arrived at University Place at about the right time, I was pleasantly surprised by the audience already there. It had seemed that the committee, having no frame of reference for how many people would show up, had booked a comically small room for the masses of people who’d turned out for Chungking. It’s just miraculous no one shouted ‘Fire’ in the crowded theatre.

More interesting than that though was the kind of crowd the film had brought out. I noticed an even concoction of very different first, second and third years. There were international students, couples on dates with picnics and people that I know hate each other who had come there separately, forced to be in each other’s presence, because unbeknownst to either they had a common interest in their desire to see this film. It would be impossible to generalise the audience of Chungking Express, or its sunglass-wearing director Wong Kar-Wai with any other word than youthful.

We didn’t have to sit on the carpet next to the screen but we did find ourselves sitting on chairs very close to it, no doubt as being someone that is somewhat tall, I irritated to no end any tiny person behind me trying to read the subtitles.

As well as the UoM Film Society being hard to discover, Wong Kar-Wai’s films are famously, despite their immense popularity, so obscure that they are often impossible to find without being forced into pirating them. This irony came to a head when the website that hosted a film that could produce a crowd that would cause panic in a claustrophobe didn’t have any English subtitles available. It was just fortunate one person knew that it was available on Kanopy. An academic film archive.

Of this viewing, I’ll remember the cramped space that I teared up in, watching Faye’s love of life as she messes around in Cop 663’s apartment after stealing his keys. A film making you laugh at something funny or cry at something horrifying is impressive. To make you let go of a tear at something joyful is either a sign the movie you’re watching is special or it’s a sign alerting you you’ve got a chemical imbalance. Yet either way it’s given me a memory I don’t want to forget and am unlikely to, which is probably the best thing you can say about the experience of seeing a film. 

Part of that I owe to the UoM Film Society, and can only suggest you should now go to their next screening, even if it unfortunately isn’t likely to be Chungking Express. And maybe stay for their social after, or even just cigarettes outside University Place.

“If memories could be canned, would they also have expiry dates? If so, I hope they last for centuries.” – Cop 223

More Coverage

Eyes Wide Shut 25 years on: A feast for the eyes, a nightmare for the mind

As part of Cultplex’s on-going Movie Church series, fans of Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut celebrate his beautifully nightmare-ish film 25 years on

Mothers’ Instinct review: How far will you go to protect your family?

Academy Award Winners Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain have a 1960s face-off in this eerie, twisted game of cat-and-mouse

My formative film: Sprinkles of Stardust can be seen everywhere

How Ian McKellan’s narration, Robert De Niro in drag, and Mark Strong in a matted wig makes Stardust the perfect fantasy film

Jurassic Park: T-Rexcellent or bit of a Dino-snore?

Does Jurassic Park still hold up or would Spielberg have been better off leaving the dinosaurs extinct?