Fallen Angels (1995)

It may be difficult to connect emotionally, but this darker companion piece to ‘Chungking Express’ (1994) has all the hallmarks of Hong Kong’s premier visual stylist.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review #1,287

Dir. Wong Kar Wai
1995 | Hong Kong | Crime/Drama/Romance | 99 mins | 2.39:1 | Cantonese & various other languages
M18 (passed clean) for violence and sexuality

Cast: Leon Lai, Michelle Reis, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Charlie Yeung, Karen Mok
Plot: A coolly detached hitman wants to finally escape a life of violence – much to the dismay of his partner who is secretly besotted with him. Meanwhile, a mute ex-convict repeatedly encounters a girl during his nights of wreaking havoc.
Awards: Won 2 Golden Horses – Best Film Editing, Best Art Direction; Nom. for 2 Golden Horses – Best Cinematography, Best Original Score; Official Selection (Toronto & Berlin)

Source: Block 2 Distribution

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: Blu-ray
First Published: 12 Apr 2016
Spoilers: No

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 aging 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. 

“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.”

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 ExpressFallen 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 and temporary. 

An underrated work that gets better with repeated viewings, 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. 

Grade: A-




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