Hong Kong's Wong Kar-Wai is in danger of becoming one of the most imitated
cinema stylists in the world. Cinephiles the world over praise his chaotic
urban-symphony style as an apt and exciting way to depict the headlong and
random rhythms of life in whatever city, be it Hong Kong or Beijing or Buenos
Aires. It's a difficult style to master, however, and few of Wong's imitators
(notably acolyte Quentin Tarantino) can manage more than a pale imitation. Even
Wong himself can't always bring it off, which is why this 1995 effort looks
like someone else trying to copy Wong.
Fallen Angels is to Chungking Express, Wong's 1994 international
breakthrough film, what Wayne Wang's Blue in the Face was to his
Smoke. In putting together Chungking Express, Wong decided he had
too much material, in the form of an additional subplot, so he reserved the
surplus for his next movie. The result is not a sequel but a variation on the
themes and characters of Chungking Express. It's loosely plotted and
largely improvised -- but then, so is every Wong movie.
Like Chungking Express, Fallen Angels tells two separate and
essentially unrelated stories -- though here, the stories are intercut rather
than presented sequentially. As in Chungking Express, one story is about
a glamorous and aloof assassin and the other is about a lovestruck and
surreptitiously industrious young person who spends a lot of time at an
all-night fast-food counter. The sexes of the protagonists have been switched,
but otherwise much is the same, from the neon streets and narrow alleyways
through which cinematographer Christopher Doyle's limpid camerawork races to
the casting of Takeshi Kaneshiro to the parade of missed romantic connections
-- right down to a joke involving the expiration date on a can of pineapple.
Fans of Chungking Express are less likely to be amused by the
self-referentiality than bored by the sense of déj´ vu.
The assassin, whose name is Wong Chi-Ming (Leon Lai), gets his assignments
from an agent (Michele Reis) he seldom sees but who expresses her secret
affection for him by managing his life, cleaning up after his hits, and even
straightening out his apartment (like Faye Wang in Chungking Express).
Chi-Ming is wearying of the life, however, and he tries to quit, leaving a
message for the agent in the form of a song on a jukebox, "Forget Him."
The agent lives in a rooming house owned by the father of the movie's other
protagonist, an ex-convict named He Zhiwu (Takeshi Kaneshiro). Zhiwu, who
doesn't speak (his thoughts are heard in voiceover), is an aimless young man
who makes his living in a weird, whimsical way, by breaking and entering
businesses that are closed for the night and intimidating passers-by into being
his customers. (The film's credits include such roles as Man Forced To Eat Ice
Cream, Woman Pressed To Buy Vegetables, and Man Forced To Have His Clothes
The two stories begin to parallel as Chi-Ming and Zhiwu stumble into their
respective romances. Chi-Ming picks up an emotionally needy punkette named Baby
(Karen Mok) whose possessive jealousy brings about a confrontation between
Chi-Ming and the agent, who tries to hang on by begging him to carry out one
last contract. Zhiwu falls for a woman named Cherry (Charlie Young) who
complains bitterly about a backstabbing boyfriend. He helps her pursue the
elusive ex, only to lose her himself. Meanwhile, Zhiwu and his father's
boarder, the agent, keep barely missing each other and a possible chance for
romance with each other.
Fallen Angels is a lot funnier than Chungking Express, but it's
also sillier and in the end much slighter. The director's musings about fate
and romantic obsession carry even less weight here than in Chungking
Express. Not that Wong doesn't have something to say on these topics -- but
for that you'd have to see 1996's Happy Together, which is a great leap
forward in maturity and style from Fallen Angels. If you're just
discovering Wong with this film, you'll be visually dazzled, but you may wonder
what the big deal is.