Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Best Films I Have Never Seen Before: Fallen Angels (1995)

Fallen Angels (1995) *** ½
Directed by: Wong Kar Wai.
Written by: Wong Kar Wai.
Starring: Leon Lai (Wong Chi-Ming / Killer), Michelle Reis (The Killer's Agent), Takeshi Kaneshiro (He Zhiwu), Charlie Yeung (Charlie / Cherry), Karen Mok (Punkie / Blondie / Baby), Fai-hung Chan (The Man Forced to Eat Icecream), Man-Lei Chan (He Zhiwu's father),  Toru Saito (Sato),  To-hoi Kong (Ah-hoi).

Fallen Angels is Wong Kar Wai’s quasi-sequel to his 1994 hit Chungking Express. I fell in love with Chungking Express, with its dreamy tone and romanticism that is laced through every scene. The characters in Chungking Express have relationships that end, and that they learn to accept that, and enjoy living in the moment. When Wong wrote Fallen Angels, it was to be the third story in Chungking Express – but it ended up taking on a life of its own, and he decided to make it a film unto itself. I think this was the right decision, because Fallen Angels is much darker than Chungking Express, less dreamy and romantic, even as it touches on the same themes – and sometimes even references the previous film. But while Chungking Express was about infatuation, and how wonderful it can be, even if it never leads to anything else, Fallen Angels is about the dangers of infatuation.

The movie, much like Chungking Express, tells two stories that take place in Hong Kong. Instead of stacking them as he did in Chungking Express, here the two stories intermingle – cutting back and forth from one to the other. The first is about Wong (Leon Lai) a professional killer who is sent on assignments by his agent (Michelle Reis), who also happens to be in love with him. She does everything for him, except for the actual killings – and he likes that. He says it allows him not to think or force him to make decision. Who lives and who dies has long since been decided before he shows up. He knows his agent is in love with him, but he doesn’t love her back. Instead, he has an affair with a blonde woman he meets at McDonalds – but even that won’t last. They barely speak to each other.

The other story involves He (Takeshi Kaneshiro), a mute young who goes around and reopens closed businesses at night, and forces passersby to buy from him. He does this, he tells us in voiceover, so he can be his own boss. But like Wong, the killer, he also does it so he doesn’t have to make decisions. Whatever business he reopens already has their stock – all he does is sell it. He meets Charlie (Charlie Yeung), a young woman who is on the phone with what she thinks is her boyfriend, joyfully accepting what she thinks is a proposal of marriage to her – when really what he is saying is that he has become engaged to someone else. She goes crazy, and decides to track down this woman – Blondie, who may or may not be the same woman the killer has an affair with. Meanwhile, He falls in love with her – but he barely registers with her. When they meet again, months after she left, she doesn’t even remember him.

As with all of Wong’s film, Fallen Angels is a visual feast. Many critics have noted that he seems inspired by Godard, in his attitude toward film and his visuals, but I think Wong is clearly the more talented filmmaker. There is hardly a scene in Fallen Angels that is not inventive and mesmerizing. Wong has never been known for his action sequences, but the moments where the killer goes on his sprees are stylish – playing with the visual style of fellow Hong Kong filmmaker, and action master John Woo, brilliantly. And yet, I do not think that Wong’s visuals are the whole point of his films – like many of his detractors claim. The visuals match the thematic elements of the films – like the wonderful closing scene where the Agent talks about how relationships are short, but for the moment, she is happy – as the smoke from a cigarette dissipates above her. It is a brilliant moment.

Overall, Fallen Angels isn’t quite as good as Chungking Express. Perhaps it’s because it’s so much darker than the previous film, but for some reason, this film didn’t quite wrap me up in the same way Chungking Express did. Nevertheless, Fallen Angels is still an innovative, daring and finely textured film. It may not be Wong’s best, but even lesser Wong is better than most film’s best.

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