Fallen Angels

In many ways Fallen Angels feels like another segment to Chungking Express and perhaps initially that was the intent. Like Chungking, it tells two tales of displacement in modern HK and there are certainly connections between the two films (can of expired pineapples, a hit on Indians, living in the Chungking Mansion). It utilizes many of the same film and editing techniques and inner narrative style, but it doesn’t capture the same zest, the same magic. One really gets the feeling here that Wong Kar-Wai is more concerned with film technique than telling a good story and having interesting characters. There is no soul, no heart in this film. It is all camera angles and distortion and strange color tints.  To such an extant that watching the film is almost uncomfortable at times.
Leon Lai and Michelle Reis

The two stories shift back and forth here as opposed to Chungking. One relates the story of a hitman, Leon Lai, and his strung out agent Michelle Reis. WKW does everything he can to make Michelle as unattractive as possible. Eventually Leon decides he wants to get out of the game. I didn’t care about either character or that of Karen Mok who gets involved.

Michelle Reis
The second story follows Takeshi Kaneshiro and his meandering lifestyle. He is a mute and plays his character as a hopped up Harpo Marx and though his character has a touching sweet relationship with his father that connects with the viewer, it is only a small piece of this film. Charlie Yeung plays the wacked out girl who shows up at the end as  . . . a stewardess of course!

There are some good moments in this film, but it is still a major disappointment after Chungking. It left me cold and restless for the most part.

My rating for this film: 6.0


Reviewed by YTSL

IMHO, there are quite a few Hong Kong movies that benefit from a second (and third, fourth and so on!) viewing.  With some, this is due to their whirlwind pacing and mindboggling sights (I think here of "Swordsman II" and its even more frenzied follow-up, "The East is Red").  With others, it's because their premise and contents are so unexpected, exotic or downright weird (the blue-faced hopping corpse-filled "Mr. Vampire" quickly comes to mind!).  There also are those full and complex offerings in which there is so much to absorb intellectually as well as emotionally, aurally as well as visually, that one can only appreciate if they somehow eventually cease to overwhelm (or, as was the strange case for me with regards to "Chungking Express", I honestly had to learn to not underestimate...).

Leon Lai
The first time I watched FALLEN ANGELS, I not only was distinctly unimpressed but also actually felt physically sickened by it.  This 1995 Wong Kar Wai movie has been described as the companion -- or adjunct -- piece of his easily likeable "Chungking Express" (and quite a few elements of that vibrant release -- including the CHUNGKING Mansions that is a venue for many interesting (!) occurrences and the Midnight EXPRESS eatery -- do reappear here).
Michelle Reis
My own sense and conclusion though was that FALLEN ANGELS was in fact the 1994 Hong Kong Best Film Award winner's dark (yet not humorless) and deranged sibling, what with its having:  Bizarre -- rather than just quirky -- characters (contrast Takeshi Kaneshiro's lonely yet charming "Chungking Express" policeman with his eccentric FALLEN ANGELS character); scenes filmed using a camera that not only shakes, bounces and veers a lot but which also successfully makes a former Miss Hong Kong, Michelle Reis, look quite unappealing (as well as -- famously -- have a nose like Pinocchio's!); the kind of editing that caused scenes to change disarmingly abruptly and arguably prematurely; and the employment of discomfort-inducing tones and colors.  Suffice to say that I truly came away from the experience loath to watch another film directed by the man who many Hong Kong actors seemed eager to work with but whose movies Asian audiences weren't exactly flocking to see.
Leon Lai and Karen Mok
Since then, I have become a fan of the self-described "not very successful commercial film director" (In Fredric Dannen and Barry Long's "Hong Kong Babylon", 1997:52) by way of viewing his sublime "Ashes of Time" and impressive "Happy Together".  Having recently realized that there is so much more to "Chungking Express" then initially meets the eye, I decided to check out Wong's fifth directorial effort one more time.  Post doing so, I can confirm that it still can and sometimes does appear excessive, irritating and (especially in the first half of the movie; or at least until one gets used to it...) nausea-inducing to this viewer. There really are times when I am moved to think that Wong and those members of his crew who were involved in the production of "Ashes of Time" (notably cinematographer Christopher Doyle but also co-editor cum art director William Chang) made use of FALLEN ANGELS to seriously but desperately attempt to shake off the nervous energy and frustrations left over after making that ambitious "action movie about inaction".  At other times, I wonder whether they were just indulging themselves by audaciously experimenting with different film(ing) techniques.
Charlie Yeung, Takeshi Kaneshiro and Dad
In any case and nonetheless, I honestly feel that there truly are some wondrous moments, sequences and elements to be found in this admittedly -- maybe deliberately? -- rough work.  These range from the amusing (Leon Lai's assassin's encounter on a bus with a grade school classmate who now sells insurance) and ridiculous (Charlie Yeung's explosive character's one-sided phone conversation which prompts her to go off on a demented search for a person named Blonde) to the tender (Takeshi Kaneshiro's character's father watching -- with pleasure -- his son's video recording of him on his sixtieth birthday); and also include the obviously painful (Karen Mok's bleach blonde's leaving a physical mark on her lover's hand so that he will remember her) along with that which is somehow satisfying (the moment when Michelle Reis rests her head on Takeshi Kaneshiro's shoulder while riding pillion on his zooming motorcycle).  I will also throw in the opinion that FALLEN ANGELS has an incredibly memorable and appropriate soundtrack (Frankie Chan and Roel Garcia deservedly won awards for the Best Original Film Score) which effectively contributes to one's viewing as well as listening pleasure.
Charlie Yeung and Takeshi Kaneshiro
In conclusion:  IMHO, FALLEN ANGELS does pale in comparison with the energetic yet thoughtful "Chungking Express"...but then, most films (made in Hong Kong or elsewhere) would.  Neither is it the cinematic jewel that is "Ashes of Time".  Consequently, I must admit to feeling somewhat irritated that I had to go through so much to appreciate this flawed but still genuine gem.  Do I (now) have good impressions and memories of it though?  And would I watch this often disjointed yet ultimately involving film again at some point?  The answer to these questions -- weird and inexplicably (even to me) yet true enough – is an emphatic "Yes"...!
Michelle Reis and Takeshi Kaneshiro

My rating for the film:  Upon first viewing, 6; but now risen to an 8.