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Friday, February 3, 2017

Wong Kar-wai | 墮落天使 (Duòluò tiānsh) Fallen Angels


a beautiful bauble
by Douglas Messerli

Wong Kar-wai (writer and director) 墮落天使 (Duòluò tiānsh) Fallen Angels / 1995

Is there a real story in Wong Kar-wai’s 1995 Fallen Angels, or is the film all affect? Maybe it doesn’t matter. Given the beauty of Wong’s wide-angled lenses, his brightly-lit neon, the freeze frames, black-and-white interruptions, and slow-mo camera, the viewer can just sit back and relax. As some critics have noted, the experience of watching this film is more like flipping through a glossy entertainment magazine than watching a complete movie.
      What little that might be called plot—the murders committed by the passive hit man, Wong Chi-ming (Leon Lei), the masturbatory fantasies of his so-called “partner” (Michelle Reis), the crazy sexual abandon of a McDonalds-going call girl, Blondie (Karen Mok), the nightly takeovers of daytime businesses by the mute Ho Chi-mo (Takeshi Kaneshiro), and the sobs of Ho’s friend, Charlie (Charlie Yeung), all interspersed within the movie like a kind of collage—are more like events or happenings than standard narrative.
      As brutal as Wong Chi-ming’s hits are—all directed by his bedroom cleaning “partner—they are accomplished with such a lazy diffidence that they seem more like anime images than scenes from a gangster movie.

       And there is an odd-ball humor even to them: after one murderous episode, Wong rushes to a nearby bus, where is runs into a junior-high classmate who, despite Wong’s pained face, continues to rattle on about his job as an insurance salesman and his upcoming marriage. Proffering Wong a wedding invitation, he asks for Wong’s card, which he produces, a voice-over telling us that the black woman (portraying is wife) was paid $5 to pose with him, and that the child in the picture was awarded an ice-cream cone. Even hit men, in this world, evidently need a bourgeois cover.
        Instead of working at normal jobs, Ho works twice as hard by breaking into shops each night and continuing their business, mostly by coercing strangers to become his customers. A man who refuses to buy an ice cream is forced to eat and pay for buckets of the stuff, his family invited in to join him in the gorging. Actually Ho, despite the absurdity of his acts, has a point. Why should businesses that are already paid for not be run by others when the owners go home? Despite his delinquency, he isn’t at all as lazy as the hit man.
       The women of this film are strong beings, but can only suffer over the inattentiveness of their lovers. When Wong takes up with Blondie, his “partner

orders his own assignation, despite the sorrowful breakdown it costs her. The constantly sobbing Charlie, suffering a breakup with her boyfriend, later meets Ho in one of his late night jobs, dressed as an airline stewardess who seems perfectly as ease with herself, and does not even recognize the man whose shoulder she clung to night after night.
       Both of the weak males attempt to give up their “fallen” ways and to straight. Wong takes on his last “hit” only to be killed. Ho takes up a camera to change professions, filming a day in his father’s life, only to return to his nightly outings after his father dies.
      In the end, I think it’s best to view Fallen Angels as a kind phantasmagoric comedy, a kind of beautiful bauble without real meaning. Certainly Wong went on to make very different kinds of films about love. But this extension of his Chungking Express is simply a more youthful experimentation with the media. And boy is it pretty and fun to watch!

Los Angeles, February 3, 2017

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