Written by: Wong Kar-wai
Starring: Leon Lai, Michelle Reis, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Charlie Yeung, Karen Mok
Being out late at night will have you interacting with different people who frequent the daytime hours. Almost a different breed of personalities, which gets explored in the visually dynamic and narratively limited Fallen Angels. Plenty of colors and directorial style to put together these individuals of the night in their whimsical adventures.
Working as a hitman, Wong Chi-ming (Leon Lai) barely interacts with his business partner, as he receives directions for the hits, carries them out, and goes about his day. Simultaneously, Ho Chi-mo (Takeshi Kaneshiro) goes out at night to break into businesses and runs them for his own and the owner’s benefit.
Strangeness in actions becomes the common theme between the characters in Fallen Angels. Certainly not a character study or a deep dive into any of them, this film cares more about the visuals displayed and the overall mood established within the composition. Serving as a companion piece for The Chungking Express but at night, this feature displays similar themes of loneliness and emotional longing but handles it all fairly differently. Knowing Wong Kar-wai wanted both features put together as one, it demonstrates how he differentiates between Hong Kong during the day and its nightlife. Ultimately, separating these two features makes for the best choice, as they came out for the better because of it. The themes connect but their visual representation has such stark differences, which allowed them to stand alone in a profound manner.
Perhaps falling into the style over substance trap, Fallen Angels succeeds because of the mood it builds not only with the characters, but also the city as a whole. Wong Kar-wai elects to hold the camera much closer to the actors’ faces while giving us less insight into their motivations and what they want in life. Physically closer but further apart on an emotional level. It creates this constant melancholic mood permeating each sequence because nobody in this story appears to be happy with the way life seems to be going. It may explain why they take on jobs or leisure activities so late at night to the point where businesses close. For Wong Chi-ming, it makes sense as killing people in broad daylight will make for a short career as a hitman. It becomes Ho Chi-mo, who becomes the most interesting person to follow.
As a mute, he does not connect with others through speech, but rather through touch. He makes money by breaking into businesses at night and instead of robbing them, essentially operates the business as if it were open late into the night. From barbershops to ice cream dispensaries, Chi-mo almost forcibly makes customers partake in the services in some fairly hilarious sequences. The challenge with fully understanding the character comes from him not having the ability to speak, which allows him to be the perfect sounding board for someone like Charlie (Charlie Yeung). Perpetually heartbroken, she sees Chi-mo as someone willing to listen to her.
Much like The Chungking Express, plenty gets communicated through narration, which Wong Kar-wai can get away with considering how engaging his characters prove to be. Getting into their minds when they speak directly to the audience allows for a level of emotional tethering from how hopeless they are. They carry no larger goals in life, they just take each night at a time and see what the world has to offer. The narration carries plenty of insight and makes up for the moments when the characters rarely take the time to speak to each other.
Always a visual dazzler, Wong Kar-wai goes haywire in how he captures the zaniness of the Hong Kong nights within this film. Daring use of different colors along with the close-ups allow for a show in visual splendor for anyone to enjoy. He employs the grungy nature of what occurs when most people have gone to bed to his advantage to set the stage for the interactions taking place within this story. Making it equally appealing as it may be concerning, he finds the proper balance in how he establishes this world. A sensational director who conveys more by saying less in nearly all of his features to an incredible degree.
A true feast for the eyes even if the narrative suffers a bit because of it, Fallen Angels carries the promises of a Wong Kar-wai film and delivers it in spades. The fun characters to follow throughout the feature become worth more than the price of admission as at the very least they become intriguing. All captured by the gorgeous color scheme of the Hong Kong nights and you get an enjoyable and rewarding feature.