Fallen Angels (1995)

Review #1,287

Director:  Wong Kar Wai
Cast:  Leon Lai, Michelle Reis, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Charlie Yeung, Karen Mok
Plot:  A disillusioned killer embarks on his last hit but first he has to overcome his affections for his cool, detached partner.  Against the sordid and surreal urban nightscape, he crosses path with a strange drifter looking for her mysterious ex-boyfriend, and an amusing mute trying to get the world's attention in his own unconventional ways.

Genre:  Crime / Drama / Romance
Awards:  -
Runtime:  96min
Rating:  M18 for violence and sexuality.
International Sales:  Fortissimo Films

“The road home isn't very long, and I know I'll be getting off soon.  But at this moment, I'm feeling such lovely warmth.”

Made right after Chungking Express (1994) and Ashes of Time (1994), Fallen Angels furthers Wong Kar Wai's reputation as Hong Kong's premier visual stylist.  In fact, it is a close companion piece to Chungking Express, albeit one that is darker and more violent, with a stronger undercurrent of sexuality.  This somewhat foreshadows the one-two punch of In the Mood for Love (2000) and 2046 (2004). 

Starring Leon Lai and the very pretty Michelle Reis as a pair of underworld professionals who are strangers – one a hitman for hire, the other who cleans up after him, Fallen Angels presents the first of two intertwining narrative treads with much dynamism and energy, often with quick intercutting of mobile shots, filmed with progressive intention (and invention) by the great Christopher Doyle.

The second thread focuses on a strange, if happy-go-lucky mute played by Takeshi Kaneshiro, who lives with his ageing father.  Fascinated by a multitude of persons and things, including a video camera which he uses to capture shots of his dad, a recurring woman looking for his mysterious ex-boyfriend, and breaking into stalls in the middle of the night to sell food, his bizarre antics may appear socially incongruent, but he is essentially a child at heart, longing for some sort of connection with someone, with anyone. 

Wong keeps his two sets of characters apart for most parts of Fallen Angels, which may feel like he is disinterested in pursuing any meaningful direction for the film.  In a sort of meandering though rather freewheeling way that largely characterized Chungking Express, Fallen Angels can be difficult to connect emotionally. 

However, what keeps the viewer engaged is Wong’s masterful creation of an intoxicating atmosphere, in part due to Doyle’s superb cinematography, as well as its well-curated soundtrack of songs and original score.  In every major character, we get a palpable sense of his or her desire for companionship, but the reality is that what they are seeking often eludes them.  Everything is fleeting, momentous and temporary. 

Not one of Wong’s best works (though some critics would argue otherwise), Fallen Angels is most certainly worth a peek, especially if you regard the auteur as one of the greatest filmmakers to emerge in the '90s. 

Verdict:  Difficult to connect emotionally, but this companion piece to Chungking Express (1994) has all the hallmarks of Hong Kong’s premier visual stylist.


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