Fallen Angels (Duo luo tian shi) (1995)
Writer/Director: Wong Kar-Wai
Concept: 8 Without a real lead character, Fallen Angels is about the unusual lives of those who inhabit Hong Kong’s underworld city life. We follow a contract killer’s missions as well as his partner’s preparations. He never actually meets her since he doesn’t want to get involved romantically. In fact, he is considering breaking ties. She, however, has been fantasizing about him for years and is coming close to tracking him down. Soon the hit man stumbles on an older affair that he doesn’t even recognize!
In a different story, a mute “who’s his own boss,” breaks into butcher shops, salons, and ice cream trucks, anything late at night while they’re closed. He forces random people on the street to be his customers! He is more stubborn than his skeptics and physically wrestles with them until they give in. He changes his ways though, after he has his heart broken by a crazed woman who is seeking revenge against “Blondie” for stealing her ex-boyfriend. By the end of the film all stories have relevance to each other.
Film’s trademark feel: Cool detached people infested in cigarette smoke, or complete oddballs doing very abnormal things whether it’s for their source of income or just for leisure. It features love stories that are based on bizarre and unconventional beginnings which continue in the same light. One story is, cool, composed, serious, understated, and oozes style like a contemporary gangster noir film. Another is goofy, light-hearted, obnoxious, ridiculous, silly, and knows no restraint. It’s an objective and realistic day to day tone ensued through surreal eyes.
Acting: 8 It’s not about how great each individual performance is. It’s about where the camera is and how many people are being filmed simultaneously. There is a lot of day to day activities filmed, as well as conversations in both confined and public places. The result is a personal atmosphere even if who’s on camera isn’t doing anything that noteworthy, which is rare because of the very self-conscious camera work.
Locations: 9 It’s shot all over Hong Kong’s landscape. From cafes, the subway, apartment complexes, restaurants, a fruit and vegetable stand, a football stadium, clubs, a butcher’s shop, warehouses, underneath tunnels, bars, a salon, to within an ice cream truck, and even an underground McDonald’s, Fallen angels rarely stays put. Every single notable location often exerts way more character than other similar public places. These environment’s common thread is with random, whimsical, and very cool intent. Each setting utilizes multiple colored city lights while simultaneously casting shadows upon it’s actors. The only reason I wouldn’t give the film a ten here, is because Won Kar-Wai is resourceful enough to not have to actually build any of his own sets…. clever man.
Cinematography: 10 It’s slowly paced contrary to it’s over-stimulation of camera angles. It features distorted, and claustrophobic camera angles with heavy usage of a wide angled lens. You never know precisely where you are despite everything being captured articulately. There is lots of slow motion but with tasteful implication. For example, it’s used completely the opposite of when a bad ass walks away disinterested from an explosion they effortlessly created.
Different actor’s performances are captured both in the foreground and the background of many shots with very lesser used perspectives. There is so much saturated color and unique lighting that it’s impossible to remember all of it in the first viewing. The camera as well as the editing is all over the place (not that it’s without it’s longer uncut performances). Every shot is interesting and unique. If you’re a student of cinematography, this is about as good as it gets. The only thing that I am certain I enjoy visually just as much as this is David Lynch’s Inland Empire.
Screenplay: 8 It flows nicely, and just when you feel the pace getting a little slow, the story changes significantly. The colorful characters are just as diverse as the locations it takes advantage of. Your mood will change often because of it, although the film has a familiarity throughout since it’s mostly shot at night. Fallen Angels enjoys being distracted to exclusively take the road less traveled not only through it’s locations but by it’s oddly lovable personalities.
Dialog: 8 The lines are quirky, inventive, and ignore any consideration to civilized formalities. Each character often serves as the narrator speaking to you personally even though such a conversation could never exist. This is especially so since one of them is a mute and all of the lead roles are introspective loners. If there is any interactive interchanges, it’s because of a love interest. Either that or the protagonist is doing something laughably uncivilized like barging into the bathroom to film his father using it, pretending to shoot himself and die, or shouting through apartment hallways to exact revenge on “Blondie.”
Outfits: 10 A leopard spotted shirt, red and black plastic dresses, semi beatnik attire, women with dreadlocks, jet black or burnt orange dyed hair, t-shirts and dress shirts, elegant contemporary chinese dresses, fishnet stalkings, trench coats and sports jackets, Fallen Angels could write a book on style, charisma, attitude, or the basically the tastes of a Rock star. It will be hard to not go to a thrift shop after watching this. If you’ve seen Wong Kar Wai movies before, this will by no means surprise you. Most of them approach a vintage meets contemporary sensibility, as well as a thought out mix of cultures.
Soundtrack: 8 Watch the trailer and tell me that the theme song doesn’t make you want to walk down the halls by yourself in slow motion, as you contemplate within cigarette smoke just before you take out your handguns emptying them into gangsters playing cards. The soundtrack is atmospheric, with a lounge Noir film consciousness. It blends modern and reminiscent styles of music accentuating each other rather than feeling forced or conflicted. Not that I’m a huge fan of his, but it surprises me that this wasn’t on Quentin Tarantino’s favorite movies list since he would fall in love with both the soundtrack and the clothes.
Target Audience: It appeals to… cinematographers, film students, sophisticated criminals, goofballs, rebels, weirdos, insomniacs, French new wave enthusiasts, art-house cinema fans, romantics who prefer spontaneity in their love stories as well as vintage reminiscence, stubborn yet silly people, chilled out folk, loners bored with a simple life who break rules to make it interesting. People who prefer to live everyday life like a dream or those who appreciate the smaller details of daily routine will dig this. If you’ve wondered what it’s like to be a stranger you bumped into on the street, Fallen Angels kind of feels like a chance to fulfill that wish.
Sum up: It’s not a deep film. It has a deep feel. Usually I’m the kind of guy who will take substance over style any day, but Fallen Angels is often considered Wong Kar-Wai’s most successful experiment with a classic lure. It’s quite true. It’s not about knowing precisely who these people are, but trying on a different lifestyle for a day like it’s a piece of clothing. Also, we usually don’t get to indulge in these type of garments without getting into trouble. This film interchanges committing crimes with unlikely romances like there’s nothing odd about either. You’ll have a few laughs for sure as well. Yeah, Fallen angels has so much style it’s enough to make a tasteless person disgusted with themselves. Also, even though this film is very sound in mind in how it looks, there are many sincere and heart warming textures. It’s not all just flash and show, but you’ll find yourself in a personally unique experience after another.