Director: Wong Kar-Wai | Runtime: 99mins | Romance, Drama | Language: Cantonese/Mandarin
In the underbelly of Hong Kong, a Hitman’s (Leon Lai) relationship with his enigmatic partner (Michelle Reis) is tarnished when he decides he wants to leave the job behind. Meanwhile, a mute and childish man (Takeshi Kaneshiro) tries to find his way through life, while also discovering love for the first time.
Wong Kar-Wai’s catalogue of films boast vibrant and complex movies, ones that have no strict guidelines with structure or characters but still work regardless. His crowning jewel of dual-story telling is Chungking Express (1994), telling two stories (one after the other) about longing, and the effects romance leaves on a person. With Fallen Angels he follows up his success with a wonderfully explosive, but at the same time subdued, film that boasts the same level of exploration as Chungking Express, but swaps the humid back alleys for the neon brimmed bars and restaurants of midnight Hong Kong.
We are first introduced to a hitman and his partner, two people who have never actually met but feel so emotionally entangled in each others lives that they could be in a relationship. The woman scopes out the targets, and the hitman follows up the next day. This is the simplicity of their plan that has worked for years, but it’s their dynamic that’s so interesting. His partner often finds herself digging through his trash for clues on his day-to-day living, longing for more connection to the man she is working with and he reciprocates by leaving said clues.
Despite these characters having no meeting until the end of the movie, Wong Kar-Wai is so wonderful at building their relationship, intertwining and paralleling their movements with identical shots, using their voiceover to not match, but similarly explain themselves and in turn letting us make this connection naturally. The director is full in control, and these opening scenes are bursting with craft and style that manages to build the film within the first ten minutes with ease. Making it all the more visible when their paths stop paralleling, leaving not just the characters, but the audience in a state of emptiness.
..Kar-Wai has never had a problem building character so effortlessly, it’s in his wonderful cinematography and direction that gives this film that extra push into top quality.
Somewhere between the Hitman quitting and the relationship crumbling, we are introduced to another main character somewhat out of the blue. While it does jolt you ever so slightly, it does add to the improvisational style of camera and structure that Kar-Wai keeps continuously. This character is He Zhiwu, a mute young man who’s job is breaking into an array of businesses and using them as his own until he gets thrown out. Most of the comedy that this movie has (which is a surprising amount) comes from Zhiwu forcing people to pay him by offering a little too much business. He forcefully washes someones hair, and then makes an entire family eat ice cream until they give him some kind of payment.
While these are funny moments though, there is real depth to this character, the relationship to his Dad and the eventual love he finds. But Kar-Wai has never had a problem building character so effortlessly, it’s in his wonderful cinematography and direction that gives this film that extra push into top quality. The streets are photographed as if they are influenced by polaroid pictures, finding beauty in the backdrop as well as giving his camera a nonchalant feel. But as already stated Kar-Wai is a master filmmaker who is in full control of his vision, and although some shots almost feel accidental make no mistake, they are no accident.
It may not surpass Chungking Express in quality but it certainly matches it for it’s exuberance and wonderfully docile story. The characters lead the story rather than relying on heavy structure, and for that it may not be for everyone. There is a very particular set of moviegoers that will enjoy this, but regardless of your preferences what Wong Kar-Wai does is staple so much heart and humanity into his film that beyond all the wonderful setting and vibrant soundtrack what you have is a touching tale about romance, and the unnoticeable presence people have on our lives.