Fallen Angels (1995)
Director: Wong Kar-Wai
Genre: Drama

Overview: A killer navigates conflicted feelings towards his assistant while a mute loner tries to make it in the world after getting out of prison.

Synopsis: Watching the mid 1990s films of Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar-Wai is a bit like a reading a collection of poetry. The final output isn’t necessarily meant to be understood or figured out. There can be a theme or feeling that runs through the finished piece, but there’s always a different reading out there, a new angle to look at. There might be an odd detour or two that take one explanation or reading of the material and renders it moot. Watching these films requires the viewer to surrender oneself over for around 90 minutes—by no means turning the brain off, but perhaps turning it a bit inward. It’s an experience, not a puzzle.

Wong’s 1995 film Fallen Angels is no different. Like his other well-known mid ‘90s outputs Chungking Express and Happy Together, Fallen Angels is a mosaic of the underground. It follows mostly-separate story arcs, bouncing between them backwards and forwards in time. We’re first introduced to a contract killer (Leon Lai) in Hong Kong who instantly tells us—through voiceover, a Wong staple—that he’s romantically involved with his assistant (Michelle Reis). But the killer believes that work and love are best separated, thus cannot continue seeing her romantically. Later, the killer begins a tryst with a prostitute, another source of companionship that he knows has a short shelf life.

Separately we also follow Ho Chi Moo (Takeshi Kaneshiro), a mute loner who has just gotten out of jail (he says he hasn’t spoken since eating expired cans of pineapples, one of the film’s few callbacks to Chungking Express). For a “job,” he sneaks into different places of business and runs the place after hours, essentially annoying people to the point that they give him some money to go away. Though humorous, these are also heartbreaking scenes, showing us the deep loneliness at the heart of this character. That loneliness only compounds later in the film in Ho’s a fling with a girl he keeps running into (Charlie Yeung) and his relationship with his aging father (Man-Lei Chan).

Obviously, much more happens in Fallen Angels. But it’s a great example of how Wong’s films are much more about the how than the what. The film buzzes with a kinetic, seemingly ceaseless energy. The camera zips and zooms around, often tracking intimately right up against the characters’ faces with a fisheye lens look that stretches the outer edges of the frame. Many individual shots utilize a wide color palette—neon-like greens and reds often pop the screen against the greys of the city’s grimy, wet exteriors and dark interiors. Hallways and staircases play a vital role as background for important moments; doorways create frames within frames that momentarily trap characters in place. Some might say the film’s decidedly grungy, 90s counterculture vibe dates it a bit, and while there is much of-a-time-period style utilized, Wong never lets the film’s aesthetic distract from the people at its heart—the down and out, ignored, and forgotten.

The film ends with narratives connecting, two of these people having just met, perhaps starting something new. In Wong’s films, everything eventually comes to an end. So far, companionship hasn’t lasted long for these people. But it looks like they’ll keep giving it a shot.

Featured Image: Kino International