Fallen Angels

Doh Lok Tin Si | Hong Kong | 1995 | Directed by Wong Kar-wai

Logline: In an urban nightscape the lives of a contract killer and his agent working at a distance, a drifter searching for her ex-lover, and an eccentric mute vying for attention in outlandish ways, all cross paths.

Amidst the big neon glitter, the cluttered, claustrophobic alleyways, the towering architectural sheen, and the strangely lonely bars and cafes, five lost souls clamber and mumble, peer and glance, laugh, cry, perspire, and ponder. They dream of love and desire; of connecting in a trip-hop world of ordered dysfunction, searching for that elusive creature called belonging.

Auteur filmmaker Wong Kar-wai is one of the few true cinematic poets of the post-modern age; he paints mood and texture with light and shadow, sound and image, visage and montage, joy and sorrow. He is a superb sensualist who never compromises his elliptical story-telling by pandering to conventional narrative. His stories are more about expression than reason, less about rationale and more about emotional resonance tuned by moments. Wong treats cinema like fine cuisine; it is the exquisite taste in the mouth that is most memorable, and the memory of that sensation.

Wong’s long-time visual collaborator, his cinematographer, ex-pat Australian Christopher Doyle, is a gifted lensman. Doyle has shot all of Wong’s most notable features; Days of Being Wild, Ashes of Time, Chungking Express, Fallen Angels, Happy Together, In the Mood for Love, and 2046. Fallen Angels is Doyle’s most noirish and visually affecting work. The use of blurred motion and distorted composition, colour and monochrome, of wide-angle and extreme close-up; Doyle’s control is masterfully artistic. The movie has very little dialogue, but pulsates with (mis)communication.

Wong is legendary for not working closely with a screenplay, but rather notes, eschewing the rigidity of classical scene construction in favour of building and developing narrative out of location and character. With Doyle by his side (who is director of photography as well as camera operator), Wong’s approach to mise-en-scene is an organic process. Yet, there is a distinct stylistic at play. A Wong Kar-wai film is a Wong Kar-wai movie, no buts about it. William Chang is another of Wong’s faithful; he is the movie’s editor, production designer and costumer.

Most of Wong’s moves deal with moodiness and aesthetics, no more so than Fallen Angels (the title alone hints suggestively at both beauty and corruption). The handsome hitman, played with consummate suavity by Leon Lai, and his agent who cleans up after him, played by gorgeous Michele Reis (a former Miss Hong Kong), whom the killer holds deep affection for, but by code cannot disclose his desire, so he befriends Punkie (aka Blondie aka Baby), played by Karen Mok, a borderline hysterical, but endearing young woman trying to locate her wayward ex-boyfriend He (Takeshi Kaneshiro). While floating in the middle is another beguiling, good-looking loner, Charlie, played by Charlie Yeung, a mute (after eating canned pineapple past its expiry date!) who provides the movie with sporadic narration and amusing interludes.

Fallen Angels has no real resolve, has no real anchor, and yet is a profoundly beautiful, sporadically violent, dreamlike experience that floats in the heart and mind long after the mesmerizing, shimmering, rain-soaked imagery fades from the screen. This is a night poem for the soul; sexy posing, underground chaos, jukebox punctuation, and jazzy street magic entwined, stretching, aching, breathing, stumbling …. and finally still.