You asked me if I planned all this, I could sense a hum of worry in your voice, as if regretting the question even before you finished asking it. This was when I could still sense things like that. I meant it when I said no. And maybe you felt that I meant it. I hope you did. You kissed me before you went to sleep. Pink neon as a kind of mint with murmurs of nicotine was how it tasted. Also, relief. It was a kiss that would have taken us to such great heights if the timing had been different, timing being everything. But that night in Chungking, that night I lay awake until morning listening to you breathe, that would be the whole of our brief encounter, that would be the first and last time I went there, that would be the last time I saw you. I always thought I’d see you again. And no, I didn’t mean it to be that way either.
Sinatra was wrong. HK, not NY, is the city that doesn’t sleep - - -and doesn’t let you get much either. I sleep light when I’m there, so light that it doesn’t really count as sleep anymore. I’m not sure why that is and how much of it is merely my biology reacting to the telemetry of a foreign city nor why it happens every time I’m there nor why it only happens there. Everywhere else, I drift into baby sleep. Here, I sometimes don't sleep at all. All the foreign cities I’ve been to tend to activate some measure of displacement in me and that comes, of course, with some measure of giddiness. But this is special. Could be it’s the constant blare of neon like some rogue filament of caffeine in my blood. Could be it’s the tumult of endorphin all of us get from going to places we haven’t been before only I’ve been here too many times and every time it’s the same. Could be radiations of a collective pre-millennial anxiety except little seemed to change during my post-millennial trips. Could be I’m over-romanticizing matters. Could be it’s all in my head. Whatever it is, this groggy and vibrant out-of-body wake state has become my default setting for HK. But I am, I suspect, alone in this. My HK is not likely everybody else’s HK. But it is, in many ways, the same HK as Wong Kar Wai’s. This groggy and vibrant out-of-body wake state is the climate and tenor of his lovelorn cinema.
The bleed between the two HKs was eventual and the reasons for that are more banal than anything else. I came to both at roughly the same time and under roughly the same emotional weather. I stayed, more by accident than design, at Chungking Mansions my first time there and a few weeks later, I saw my first Wong, Chungking Express, which was set in Chungking Mansions. The equivalences, if not cosmic, are quintessential Wong. I was heartbroken my first trip to HK and through some divine arrangement, or divine cruelty if you will, I would be in a heightened emotional state, not necessarily heartbreak but some permutation of it, every time I came back. The converging of opponent sensations until they taste the same - - rapture and agony, ecstasy and despair - - - has always been the sumptuous tang of Wong’s cinema and the sumptuous tang of every trip I take to HK. The overlap could be mere coincidence. But things are never as simple as mere coincidence in Wong’s HK.
Wong’s HK isn’t the HK of Johnnie To and Fruit Chan, no. I love their HKs, too. As much, sometimes more. But Wong’s HK is a skittish organism all its own, a city that seems perpetually on the verge of a nervous breakdown, amok with dilapidated lovelifes, persistent with memory, translucent with melancholia, hopelessly devoted to the frantic pursuit of fugitive and maddening and slippery love and where the random collision of strangers is not as random as you think and sometimes it can be a bitch to tell where happenstance ends and fate begins or if there’s any difference between the two.
HK is perpetually alive with a siege of ghosts , coloring the aura, configuring the atmosphere.
Foreign cities emit sensations of getaway and bewilderment. I get that from HK,too. But pickled with a rarefied quality by the sensations I associate with these ghosts : a kind of heightened catharsis that invigorates even the most melancholic of situations. I've come here twice, deep in romantic harm ,and HK always had a way to make it hurt so good.
HK is ,simply put, my hot zone for all the colours of romance : metaphoric and abstract, specific and displaced, wistful and heartbroken. (excerpt from Episode of China Blonde)
“Do you believe in love?”
Not as simple to answer as you think as it falls prey too easily to cynicism. It’s a cop-out but it’s not as if you can blame anyone who succumbs. Love isn’t exactly making it easy for anyone to believe in it, and it doesn’t seem to give much of a shit either, which might be the whole point. I do, of course. And that’s about as defiant of fashion these days as the allegiance I pledge to Wong Kar Wai’s cinema. Wong seems to believe in it, too. Every regret is just a stopover, muses the forlorn hitman in Fallen Angels, and everybody needs a partner. That this sentiment prevails as the sovereign locus of Wong’s work outs me more than it does him,though. There’s an exquisite sadness to his endings, sure - - -the serenely devastating Angkor Wat sequence from In The Mood for Love milks me dry every time. But the malfunctioning desire he traps has always, for the most part, evoked inexorability more than futility for me. Everybody’s lost in space in his movies, fumbling to master that inarticulate speech of the heart, waiting for some emotional rescue or the other, and when it comes, if it comes, you get this sense that it’s fated even if it gets hurtful and confusing and messy. After all, Bacharach did say that " . . . true love never runs smooth". And the loveliest things in life are the ones that are a bit of a mess. And his bad-hair-day lovefools, his wistful bittersweethearts, his romantic depressive misfits - - - if they weren’t so beautiful, I could be one of them.
Somewhere between the Sarah Records compilation There and Back Again Lane and the Magnetic Fields’ The Wayward Bus-Distant Plastic Trees twofer, the speed takes hold and dim sum breakfast thoughts slide into oblivion, vertigo decompresses.
I should’ve known better, seen it coming. Hong Kong was my favorite piece of geography on the planet. I made love to three women there. Three women who broke my heart. Three women equal in my desire for, fealty to, fear of. Three women whose gunk had seeped into the cracks. And the last of them was still radioactive. Stepping out of the Causeway Bay subway terminal, I was hit with that gush of bodies, a gush she had felt weirdly comforting. I was feeling something else right now. More like a pang swelling like dough in my gut. Not hunger, no. I knew. Stranded during a weekend lunchtime in Tsimshatsui last time we were here, it had taken nearly three hours for us to find a place to eat and not the Chinese she wanted. She was seething throughout the meal. Coming home hours later, exhausted from walking and from settling for so-so Japanese, we spot this little noodleshop next door to the guest house in Fu Kuong, and laugh ourselves silly. Never got the chance to try it, though. Waking up with a craving for sharksfin dumplings and beef wanton noodles and almond jelly, I remembered the place. I was starving the entire train ride from Mongkok. This pang was on top of that. A more bullheaded, a more ruthless, a more indomitable pang to quell. Clairvoyance would help, time travel, amnesia. This pang, this distress signal, this spider sense warning me about the nearness of things going dogshit, of the ghosts about to whack me with flashback of that weekend, the happiest weekend of my life, the foregone conclusion of for keeps. Then, despite all the warnings, it hits me, without warning, like a prizefighter’s mean hook. Mentally, my teeth rattle.
I took out an old film canister from my jacket pocket. Inside were four capsules of prescription speed. I swallow one dry and take refuge in the nearest HMV I could spot. (excerpt from the unpublished short story A Song For Whoever)
For a time, the ceiling of my movie love would be everything Wong Kar Wai did. The groovy ellipses, the jittery swoon. There was something narcotic in the manner of the way it sucked me in but little to do with the way Chris Doyle could light a scene so it attains this benign psychedelic sexiness, which would make my drug allusions a little trite. No, it had more to do with the mechanisms of addiction, the way I would voraciously consume and re-consume the works, as if trying to crack an uncrackable code. His is a cinema devoted to the mesh and magnetism of stories, to the pattern recognitions of love and heartbreak, to the poetry of people. His is a cinema after my own heart and after my own heartbreak. And I’ve seen and loved nearly everything Wong has made - - - I uphold even his erratic 2046 and his much-reviled My Blueberry Nights but not so much his BMW ad- - - and in a mildly blasphemous inversion, it was his work that brokered my love for Jean Luc Godard and Michelangelo Antonioni and Alain Resnais, rather than the other way around. But it’s Chungking Express that I’ve seen more than 12 times. At least. Not only is it my favorite Wong Kar Wai movie, it’s my favorite movie full stop and who knows for sure why that is. Others supersede it time and again with as much fervor and as much love - - -Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Blissfully Yours, Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Jacques Tati’s Playtime, Tsai Ming Liang’s What Time is It There?, Godard’s Band of Outsiders, Resnais’ Hiroshima Mon Amour, Antonioni’s L’Ecclise - - - and all of these seem to converge on the same playful surrealism, the same wistful melancholia and for at least three of them, a guarded but won-over optimism about the nearness of happiness. But that’s as close as I can get to parsing my love for it and it’s not as if you can actually parse the mad, unstable love you feel for anything. I keep coming back to Chungking out of loving it just a little bit more than the others, though. Equal parts Godard and guerilla, it hangs brightly in some pre-millennial HK of the heart, it’s the most kinetic movie about stasis and the most romantic movie about breaking up, a love letter to the tiny spaces that connect and disconnect people. It orbits around two cops navigating the tailend of a jilt. Cop 223 finds fleeting solace in a henchwoman wearing a blonde wig out of John Cassavetes’ Gloria. And Cop 663, in the girl he buys his ex’s dinner from, embodied luminously by Faye Wong.
I fell in love with Faye at first sight just as she did when she first sees Tony Leung’s cop, which is the first time we see him, too, through her smitten eyes. Faye may have something to do with my Chungking devotion. Not Faye herself but the way her arc articulates the romantic confusion that is the story of my life. Chungking is almost a romantic comedy but one untethered to the protocols of dating and the rules of attraction and all that social drudgery that makes chick flicks and modern day big city romance such a drag. It's surrendered instead to the machinations of a grander design. More poetic, more cosmic. After Cop 663 comes to his senses that she’s in love with him, he asks her out on the date she can't wait for him to ask her out on. Faye promptly stands him up and goes off to see the world, leaving behind a boarding pass drawn on a table napkin. When she returns a year later , the napkin is soggy and the pass unreadable that she has to write him a new ticket. “Where do you want to go?” she asks him. “Wherever you want to take me.” Wow and flutter.
I haven’t been back there in a long while. Someday, someway, I will. And maybe I’ll see you there, whoever you are, whoever you will be. And maybe this time you’ll leave with me. We can go deep into the city, with its din of color, where the ghosts and the stories are. We go there without a map. And without a plan. And maybe this time, we get so lost, we’ll never have to say goodbye.