Friday May 22, 1998
With "Fallen Angels" Wong Kar-Wai returns to the vignette form and the razzle-dazzle style of "Chungking Express," the film that made him internationally famous. Once again Wong takes us into Hong Kong at night, a claustrophobic neon-streaked city that is a veritable rabbit's warren, a maze of dark alleys, tiny apartments, bustling shops, restaurants and clubs--to spin a pair of tales of fatalistic, passionate love.
"Fallen Angels" is an exhilarating rush of a movie, with all manner of go-for-broke visual bravura that expresses perfectly the free spirits of his bold young people. (Chris Doyle is again Wong's cinematographer in what is evolving into a remarkable collaboration.) Indeed, "Fallen Angels" celebrates youth, individuality and daring in a ruthless environment that is wholly man-made, a literal underworld similar to the workers' realm of "Metropolis"--only considerably less spacious. Life proceeds at a corrosive rock music beat.
The Agent (Michele Reis), a beautiful young woman, has a problem. For some time she's had an ideal partnership with Ming (Leon Lai). She lines up hit jobs and Ming carries them out. As he tells us on the soundtrack, he loves his job because he's lazy.
The Agent faxes Ming with instructions and he opens fire at the designated targets. Although they have little contact--and perhaps for that very reason--the Agent has fallen in love with Ming--just at the moment he's decided he's had to dig out one too many bullets from his body.
In the meantime, we meet Zhiwu (Takeshi Kaneshiro, who brings to mind the young Toshiro Mifune in looks and acting range), a handsome ex-con who tells us (also via soundtrack narration) that he's been mute since he lost his voice from eating bad canned pineapple at the age of 5. Zhiwu lives with his widower father (Chen Wanlei), a chef, with whom he has a loving bond.
Zhiwu makes a living of sorts breaking into people's businesses after they're closed, then opens them up and sells to customers after hours. He breaks into a slaughterhouse, a barber shop and an ice cream van with equal glee--and exuberantly presses products and services onto a not always eager public.
Wong builds "Fallen Angels" to a graceful, beautifully orchestrated finale that at last melds his two stories romantically into one, as character collide with fate.
"Fallen Angels" grew out of "Chungking Express" only to surpass it in complexity of style, perception and emotional impact.
Made in 1995 right after "Chungking Express," "Fallen Angels" leaves you wondering whether in today's receded Hong Kong if Wong could get away with making so irreverent a film.
Fallen Angels, 1998. Unrated. A Kino International release of a Jet Tone production. Writer-producer-director Wong Kar-Wai. Co-producer Jeff Lau. Executive producer Chan Ye-Cheng. Cinematographer Christopher Doyle. Editors William Chang and Wong Ming-Lam. Music Frankie Chan and Roel A. Garcia. Production designer William Chang. In Cantonese, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes. Leon Lai as Wong Chi-Ming, the killer. Takeshi Kaneshiro as He Zhiwu. Michele Reis as The Agent. Chen Wanlei as Father.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times