Since the mid 1990’s Wong Kar Wai has crafted a much respected and beloved filmography that has delighted critics and fans the world over.
the mid 1990’s Wong Kar Wai has crafted a much respected and beloved
filmography that has delighted critics and fans the world over. Most
of, if not all, of his films tend to be romances between odd and unrelated
characters who by means of fate or consequence eventually fall in love with
each other. They start out with a slow pacing that allows the viewer to get to
know the characters’ lives and interests. Then the pace picks up as the two
characters begin to interact and their worlds begin to occupy each other. The
camera probes around the characters environment as we are almost given a first
person view of their world. The intense and crowded streets of Hong Kong along
with its neon graffiti, becomes an intrinsic personification of the films
messages and ideologies.
Yet unlike the Hong Kong movies of John
Woo and Jackie Chan, these films are inspired by an entirely
opposite type of film. They owe a great deal of debt to the French new wave
films of Jean Luc Goddard and Francois Truffaut as well as
American director John Cassavetes. Snappy dialogue and first person
contemplation dominate the audio of the films, but Wong Kar Wai is very aware
of the importance of music in film so the soundtrack plays an important role
within the story and summing up of certain personalities. It’s obvious why his
films are such a big influence on Quentin Tarantino.
Occasionally Wong Kar Wai will impose
two stories into one film. These are often unrelated narratives that barely
connect with each other but similarities are quite distinct. This technique was
most famously used in Wong Kar Wai’s best known film Chungking Express,
which feature all of his popular traits and themes of unrequited love.
Chungking Express is wonderfully quirky, funny and moving film which gained
huge international success and propelled Wong Kar Wai into the stratosphere of
exciting new directors during the 1990’s.
Whilst talking about Chungking Express
it brings us swiftly on to Fallen Angels. Originally this film was
intended to be one of three stories included in Chungking Express. Eventually
Wong Kar Wai decided to delete them from the film and these stories became a
film in its own right. Unlike Chungking Express though, theses stories chop and
change between each other rather than being sequential.
We are first introduced to two partners
in crime. One is a hired killer (Leon Lai) and his female counterpart (Michelle
Reis), who acts as his deceiving agent. Unlike Bonnie And Clyde or Thelma
And Louise these partners work apart and barely interact. This leaves the
female in the situation longing for a more meaningful relationship as she begins
to fall in love with the elusive gunman. The Killer however is oblivious to
these feelings and freely roams around the city, canoodling with bizarre women.
The other story that features in Fallen
Angels is of a young mute man named He Zhiwu (Takeshi Kaneshiro).
Desperate to please his father and appease his sordid past, He breaks into
shops at night and opens them up to any late night, often unsuspecting
customers. Constantly questioning if this is a good method of work, his inner
conflict is documented through his thoughts and his awkwardness around
strangers and the people he chooses to be friends with.
When you consider that this film was
originally intended to be included in Chungking Express, that fact is hard to
overlook whilst you are watching it. It does feel like part of a much bigger
picture. However, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t things to like and admire
about it. For a start it is a lot darker than Chungking Express. Virtually the
entire film takes place at night and works a perfect setting for these
characters complications. This isn’t a depressing or disturbing film, in fact
it is a lot more amusing than its predecessor. The characters are wild and
unpredictable, which often results in hilarious consequences. Violence is also
a heavily visited theme in Fallen Angels, particularly in the hit man’s story
as his bloody killings take place, but also Zhiwu’s story contains a lot of
aggression as he forces the unwilling public into his shops. Music once again
plays a big part in the film, as it creates an ambient atmosphere but also
distorts a lot of familiar sounds that we would be used to. This use of sound
is immediately striking and could be viewed as one of the standout features of
the film. All in all these themes and ideas sum up a sense of loss and
loneliness that can come to personify life in big cities.
Fallen Angels may lack the charm and
warmth of Chungking Express and it’s lovable characters, but it makes up for
those losses in other areas. It is a dark and eccentric exploration into Hong
Kong’s underbelly and the people who inhabit it. It may not work for new comers
to the genre or the director but once viewed against Wong Kar Wai’s other work
there is a lot to admire and appreciate. Fan’s already accustomed to Wong Kar
Wai will enjoy this film as a change of pace to his usual style and notice the
nods to his other films. Whether this is better than Chungking Express is open
to debate but what you can take away from Fallen Angels is that this is a real
hidden and undervalued gem of a film that will hopefully gain a whole new fan
base upon it’s re-release.