American filmmaker Barry Jenkins has been an active voice in the industry for a while now but he only achieved widespread popularity after his beautiful 2016 drama Moonlight caught the world’s attention by winning the Oscar for Best Picture. Recently, Jenkins returned to the spotlight after directing an Emmy nominated Amazon Prime show called The Underground Railroad which employs magical realism to paint a picture of the historical horror of slavery.
Throughout his career, Jenkins has always been quick to pay tributes to the filmmaking giants who have shaped his own journey. He was exposed to a variety of cinematic masterpieces during his time at film school, some of which remained with him forever. These unforgettable works of art inspired Jenkins to push himself and to pursue his dream of becoming a filmmaker of note.
“The story that lit my fuse and made me have to tell stories on screen was definitely Wong Kar-wai’s film Chungking Express,” Jenkins recalled. “I only found that film because I was at Blockbuster Video, I was looking at the foreign film section. Back then, you could actually touch the cover of the movie and it had Tarantino’s face on the spine. QT had put out that movie here in the states.”
Continuing, he explained how he did not expect Quentin Tarantino to be endorsing such a hidden gem from a place like Hong Kong: “I remember thinking, ‘What is the Pulp Fiction guy doing with this Chinese film?’ So I just grabbed it off the shelf and popped it in and I was just completely blown away… I thought, ‘I’d have to find a way to make films like this.'”
Out of all the films he had seen while evolving as an artist, it was the works of Wong Kar-wai that properly showed him the true potential of cinema. Jenkins was completely enamoured by the beauty of Wong Kar-wai’s Chungking Express, an enigmatic film that chronicles the tragic condition of four characters who navigate the labyrinths of urban isolation in the hope of finally getting somewhere.
In a separate interview with Criterion, Jenkins said: “Chungking Express is probably the Criterion film I saw first. It was when I first got into film school, I had never really seen a foreign film before. I wasn’t watching a lot of foreign films. I just remember being sucked in and having this feeling of how big the world was and how small it was at the same time.”
Adding, “Stylistically, it was made in a way that was different than any film I’d ever seen before. I always obsess over the Dinah Washington montage. This guy basically summarises an entire relationship in two minutes and 34 seconds and it starts out with a toy aeroplane. That moment always struck me as ridiculously beautiful even though it’s mournful at the same time. I had never seen anything like that in a film ever in my life.”
See the interview, below.