Director: Kar-Wai Wong (Hong Kong). Year of Release: 1995
Wong Chi-Ming is a hitman, who is proud that his job requires no thought or moral decisions. Everything is planned by someone else. He is about to meet his handler, known as “The Agent”. This is their first meeting, although they have been working together for 155 weeks. Wong and the Agent seem to be sharing an apartment Cox and Box, without seeing each other. An early scene shows her in a leather dress and fishnet stockings tidying up his mess. Later she gets jiggy on his bed.
He Zhiwu is an ex-con who hasn’t spoken since a childhood incident when he ate some out-of-date pineapple slices. He breaks into shops in the middle of the night and “re-opens” them. He takes unnecessary care massaging a pig’s carcass in a butcher’s shop. His main source of income seems to be offering customers a shave or endless ice cream until they pay him enough money to stop. He is in love with a woman who herself has not recovered from having her heart broken.
I’m starting to tire of explaining the characters already. They all seem to be faintly sketched stereotypes, and it’s not clear what they are doing for most of the time. I get that this is the point – Fallen Angels is a series of often comic vignettes where people live out their precarious lives under Hong Kong’s neon nights. We’re not supposed to be on top of what is happening. I get this, and I get that some people find this sort of thing exciting. Good for some people.
Occasional scenes come out of nowhere. Wong is on his way back from a hit when he meets someone on public transport. The guy is only there while his car is being repaired, and recognises Wong as a former schoolmate. He’s now working in insurance and keeps banging on about sorting Wong out with a policy. By the end of the scene, he’s invited Wong along to a wedding reception.
Wong is reluctant to engage in conversation, but reluctantly offers photos of his wife and child. The “wife” is a black woman who, we learn from the voiceover was paid to be photographed with him. The cost of the child’s photo was an ice cream. This is all a year after Pulp Fiction made irrelevant chat about inconsequential things like hamburgers funny in one film and increasingly tedious in the 1,000 films that followed. Quentin Tarantino, you have a lot to answer for.
Fallen Angels is a companion piece to Chunking Express, which I saw recently, although I now don’t remember much. This evening’s film was introduced by someone from the cinema. They explained that the original plan was for a 4-hour film containing this, Chungking Express, and who knows what else. I, for one, am relieved that they didn’t do that. Fallen Angels is not much more than an hour and a half, and even then it starts to outstay its welcome before the end.
There are, apparently, several references to Chungking Express – pineapple slices, blonde wigs and stuff like that. I’m not sure that there is any deep meaning here, just the frisson from one film referencing another. This is great if you like that sort of thing, but please excuse me if I don’t join your solipsistic adulation. When there are some similar images in 2 different films. Is this the sign of a great auteur or a lazy director?
For all this, the film looks and sounds great. The camera work is both vivid and manic, often focussing on individual characters while something more exciting is happening in the background. The camera focusses in on a woman talking, while we can just make out a bar fight going on behind her. The soundtrack is also a delight. You can never go wrong with Laurie Anderson, and Massive Attack are there to accompany some of the more sinister scenes with quiet menace.
Fallen Angels doesn’t take you anywhere, which is a good or a bad thing depending on what you want from a film. This evening, I was wanting something more. I enjoyed the visuals in a pop video sort of way, but once we’d passed the hour mark. I started feeling that I’d now seen everything I needed to see and started to get a bit bored. I never really felt any sort of engagement with the characters and stopped caring about what happened to any of them.
Maybe this was just me. Although the film is nearly 30 years’ old, the cinema – a pretty big one – was sold out (things we’ve learned tonight: under Covid conditions, sold out means that 80% of the tickets have been bought, so you’re free to wander around and find a better seat). I’m pretty sure that many people were engaged in a way I wasn’t. This doesn’t make them right and me wrong (or the other way round). It’s just the way things are.
So my recommendation is to go and see it if you like this sort of thing, and not to if you don’t. Maybe I should just use this single sentence as my review of every film. It would save me a lot of grief.