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Comparative Analysis of Citizen Kane and Chungking Express

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Film Studies
Wordcount: 2103 words Published: 18th May 2020

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Revised and Supplemented Comparative Analysis

  The two chosen sequences are the opening scene of the film Citizen Kane and Chungking Express. The first sequence leads us through Kane’s mansion until we reach Kane’s body on his bed. Clutching a glass globe, he whispers “Rosebud,” then dies. The glass globe falls and smashes. A nurse comes in and covers his body with a sheet. The second sequence depicts a cop bumps into a blonde woman, who wears a rain coat and red-framed sunglasses, during a chase in a crowded market. The camera and editing skills are the main aspects articulated in Citizen Kane and in Chungking Express, the distortion technique and bold color will be the main analyzing points.By analyzing these two sequences, it reflects the distinctive film style of the two directors: George Orson Welles and Wong Kar-wai. The similarity is that their films are all driven by visually rich imagery laden with unspoken feelings and the main difference is they prefer to using different techniques to narrate serious, social issues or small, relaxing love stories. This essay will compare these two different styles based on the two sequence.

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  Orson Welles uses the camera flexibly, by adjusting its distance, angle and movement, it enables the viewers to learn many of the facts about the life of dead Charles Foster Kane. Accompanying with Bernard Hermann’s eerie music(non-diegetic), the scene begins with a close-up of a “No Trespassing” sign attached to an iron fence and the camera lingers on sign for a few seconds before craning up to dissolve to a static long shot of the Xanadu estate seen from behind an elaborate iron gate. The director uses a wide-angle shot to present the Xanadu, which creates a close-to-subject perspective that gives the audience a sense of presence in the image. Monkeys are seen in the foreground and Xanadu palace is off in the distance with a single light on. Then a straight-angle long shot of the tower window emanates the light. Another straight-angle long shot from inside the mansion shows Kane is lying in a bed by a large window as a diffuse light comes in. With an extreme close-up shot, our attention is drawn to Citizen Kane’s famous montages— the ‘snowglobe’ sequence1. Images of falling snow (‘impossible’ snowflakes2) is superimposed on top of images of Kane and the glass ball. We cannot tell if this snow is the snow inside the globe or if the snow is from Kane’s mind or fantasy. Therefore, this ambiguity between literality and psychology empowers the audience in determining what it means. The camera thenquickly tracks back to reveal the snowglobe is in Kane’s hand and the frame cuts to a high-angle extreme close-up shot of Kane’s mouth as he whispers the critical word ‘Rosebud.’ After that, cuts to high-angle close-up shot of the globe falling from Kane’s hands as he dies. The globe rolls for a bit on a small platform and a low-angle close-up shot shows that it falls on the tiled floor and breaks into pieces. Then the frame cuts to low-angle long shot from globe’s POV as a nurse walks in. Then cuts to an extreme close-up of the shattered globe where the distorted image of the nurse is reflected as she walks into the room to the now-dead Kane. A low-angle medium shot tells us the nurse covers Kane’s body with a sheet and then the frame dissolves to a straight-angle long shot of Kane’s covered body lying in bed silhouetted against the window. All of the camera and editing techniques demonstrate the audience main diegetic elements such as ‘rosebud’ and ‘glass ball’ to build suspense which tricks the viewers to pursue a search for their meanings.

  Wong Kar-wai also builds suspense at the beginning to capture the viewers’ attention through distorted image technique and the use of bold color, costumes and sound. In the opening sequence, the rhythm flows intermittently, the music is as swift and suspenseful as the blonde woman who wears a rain coat and red-framed sunglasses suddenly enters the frame from the right. Her outfit, especially the prominent blonde wig and sunglasses that cover her true emotions by not revealing any of the meaning generally portrayed by her eyes and showing that she is stone-cold. During this scene, “her costume ties in with the rest of the mise-en-scene to give her no visible emotion and emphasize how outwardly cold she has become,”3 which impresses the audience and drives us to find out her identity and story. Meanwhile, Wong creates a temporary distortion in which the speed is neither slow motion nor sped up and images are distorted. Then it seems to be a hand-held camera alters between following the woman and showing her viewpoint. It is night time, blurry images barely show any details. The woman seems to be looking for someone in a market place mostly crowded by Indian men. Over the image of the dark sky and chimneys at night time, which creates a bit depressing and mysterious atmosphere. In the same market, Cop 223 is running after an escaped suspect, crossing the screen from left to right, only him is in focus while the background is not. He races past a series of neon streaks, creating the impression that “he’s somehow been dislodged from his surroundings—not in space, but in time”.4 At the same time, the diegetic monologue starts telling us about He Qihui’s love story. He Qihui is the cop and 223 is his number. During his chase, he bumps into the blonde woman. When she turns around to look at him the image freezes, which indicates the connection between the two strangers and agreed with the monologue that he fell in love with her fifty-seven hours later. To conclude, in this sequence, Wong’s use of speed creates distortion in the viewers minds as well as the image in the move. This distortion creates contrast and emphasis on situations giving the scene a more intense feeling, making it more memorable.

  From the analysis of these two sequences, Welles and Wong have in common is they are all imagery-driven directors, using symbolic diegetic elements to build suspense and enhance the narrative. Wong described his films as a universal language based on images.” However, due to focusing on different narrative forms: serious autobiographical story and buoyant romance story, they use specific techniques to achieve their willing visual effects. Welles usually use wide-angle and deep focus to achieve the realism, figures and objects are all depicted in details. Because it is like a documentary, its autobiographical elements echoing the personality of the Orson Welles himself. Nevertheless, Wong prefers to using bold color, modern-pop music and distorted images to create an intense visualization. In terms of the similarity, examples are the diegetic elements in both films. Interestingly, both film scripts are mainly written by Welles and Wong themselves. In Citizen Kane, ‘Rosebud’ is considered as a romanticized and idealized connotation for Kane’s lost childhood and the ‘snowglobe’ has been interpreted as the mere diegetic vehicle to access the supposedly lost childhood; In Chungking Express, blonde wig represents the anachronisms and the sunglasses can be interpreted as stone-cold heart. In short, they all contributed to the narrative and help the audience to know the characters’ personality. In addition, as key words or features, they all build suspense at the opening to attract the viewers to find out the truth. Moreover, they are the main components in the images.On the other hand, in terms of difference, the biggest one is the two films have different themes thus giving viewers completely different emotions. Welles’ film discusses big and even sensitive social issues so the whole atmosphere is relatively heavy and even depressing, it makes the viewers think rationally and deeply after watching it. Nevertheless, Wong’s film is telling small and ordinary young people’s daily stories, viewers can feel in that way and even have experienced it. Furthermore, Wong has used more new techniques, image distortion for example, makes the film more intense and intriguing. Additionally, Welles is famous for his editing and the use of camera that show his outstanding precision in composition. For example, the constant use of dissolves as the camera comes closer and closer to the titular Kane on his deathbed, during this process, a slow-moving fluidity is added to the scene. This adds effect in allowing the viewer to absorb the information in every shot and not simply spoonfeeding Kane’s entire life story to them. Wong is good at using bold color and music, which makes the audience more impressive because of its huge visual impact.

 To conclude, the wide-angle shot and deep focus in Citizen Kane simply show us the outstanding camera techniques Orson Welles have. Meanwhile, the bold color and distorted images in Chungking Express depict us the young director’s creative style. Imagery- driven and diegetic symbols are the main similarities and serious or relaxing themes and what they make the audience think are the main differences. All in all, they are all remarkable directors who are good at creating visual effects and forming their own iconic style. 

Works Cited:

Citizen Kane. RKO, 1941. Film

Chungking Express. Jet Tone Production. 1994. Film

  1. Scott Shannon, “Review of The Magic World of Orson Welles, by James Naremore,” University College Cork, Ireland (2016): 3,


  1. De Oliveira, and Paula Damasceno, “‘Rosebud’” and the ‘Glass Ball’ Two Tricks to the Myth-Making of Citizen Kane.” UNC Asheville (2016): 1854,


  1. Elizabeth Wright, “Desire. The Cinema of Wong Kar-wai – A ‘Writing Game’,” Sense of Cinema (2001)


   4.  Flora Dou, “Time, Space, and Love: Eternal Themes in Wong Kar-Wai,” Majortest.com (2015): 1.



  1. Shannon, Scott. “Review of The Magic World of Orson Welles, by James Naremore,”  (2016): 3. https://cora.ucc.ie/bitstream/handle/10468/6002/ReviewScott%20issue%2011.pdf?sequence=1
  1. Oliveira, De, and Damasceno, Paula, “‘Rosebud’” and the ‘Glass Ball’ Two Tricks to the Myth-Making of Citizen Kane.” UNC Asheville (2016): 1854.


  1. Wright, Elizabeth, “Desire. The Cinema of Wong Kar-wai – A ‘Writing Game’,” Sense of Cinema (2001)


   4.  Dou, Flora. “Time, Space, and Love: Eternal Themes in Wong Kar-Wai,” Majortest.com (2015): 1.



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