To understand how Wong achieved this cult status and why certain elements of his films such as time bear significance, it is important to discuss the history from which he grew as they are both linked.
Collaborating with well known directors such as Patrick Tam in the early 1980's, writing scripts and assisting in direction, Wong learnt from his masters and established himself as one of the second new wave of Hong Kong filmmakers living at a time when issues such as Hong Kong's transfer to China were foremost. Back in 1984 when the Sino-British agreement was drawn charting a plan to handover Hong Kong to mainland China, the uncertainty surrounding this issue forced Hong Kong's residents as well as its filmmakers to examine this subject in depth. Rather than condemning the take over, the filmmakers sought to explore this previously un-chartered subject, seeking to introspect instead of criticizing. This was the moment when Hong Kong cinema matured and carried forward to the second new wave of filmmakers. In his films Wong essentially captures the cultural identity of Hong Kong which was dual in nature. "The cinema of Hong Kong reflects this notion of a dual identity, combining to create a third, localised identity (Wright 2002)." This duality arose from Hong Kong's close proximity to China whose cultural identity is vastly different and bore a significant impact to Hong Kong. But Hong Kong's history of being associated with western culture, absorbing the western way of free life, gave it a new identity which tried to mingle and sit well with its old identity. And Hong Kong films particularly from directors such as Wong Kar-wai, echo this dual identity. "Hong Kong released a few art films that found their way into film festivals. Chungking Express (1994) directed by Wong Kar-wai, became a cult hit (Bordwell 2000)."
Hong Kong cinema is both a popular cinema and a cinema of auteurs with directors such as Wong Kar-Wai gaining local as well as international acclaim. In the United States, Hong Kong cinema is seen as cinema of blazing passions. But it is much more. It is cinema that responds to a specific historical situation, what some authors call a space of disappearance where imperialism and globalism overlap with each other. "Hong Kong films are characterized by comic book style images, hyperkinetic quick cuts and mind-blowing storylines. Unlike American films, Hong Kong films are produced in an assembly-line manner (Abbas 2005 p.18)." They are also more immediate and more like "pure cinema". The films, especially kung-fu retained a degree of athleticism that were the hallmark of the old Hollywood and the era of Buster Keaton and Douglas Fairbanks.
"Wong Kar-wai's films generally favor detail over totality and the part over the whole. His narrative is usually made up of pieces that never add up to the over big picture and sometimes particularly in Chunking Express, the different narrative parts are juxtaposed and other times interwoven (Lalanne 1997)." Along with Wong's other films such as Day of Being Wild, Happy Together, In the Mood for Love and Fallen Angels, Chungking Express also focuses on the chance nature of romance and the concept of the 'missed moment'. This is the highlight of Wong's cinematic composition. The arbitrary crossing of paths of his protagonists is projected in his narrative.
In his films, Wong Kar Wai