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