Friday, November 20, 2009

Fallen Angels

Duo luo tian shi (Fallen Angels), 1995
Dir: Wong Kar-wai
November 19, 2009

So, this is good. But I kept wanting something else most of the time, and as it is sort of a sequel to Chungking Express (1994), there were parts that I just didn't want. Of course, that's my opinion, and there are tons of other stuff that I really dug, especially Leon Lai, who plays a killer trying to reform his life while dealing with the barely-alive relationships that he has. The ending also had me thinking about what exactly happened in regards to Wong Chi-Ming, Lai's character.

The film is not really about one character in particular, but revolves around different ones coming into contact with one another and then breaking apart again. So, instead of missed connections maybe broken connections? Similar themes, and just as sad. Wong Chi-Ming is a hired gun who has a partner, a beautiful young woman (Michelle Reis) who does his scouting and gives him his assignments. He sums up their relationship by saying, "The best thing about my profession is that there's no need to make any decision. Who's to die... when... where... it's all been planned by others. I'm a lazy person. I like people to arrange things for me. That's why I need a partner." He has feelings for her, but thinks it is improper to have a relationship with your partner. Little does he know that his partner is also secretly jonezing for him, and Wong Kar-wai throws in the masturbation/crying scenes to prove it. All of Wong Chi-Ming's hits are rad, the music, color and pace blending to absorb you in to the scene and force you stop analyzing what you are watching, which is what the best films do. At a certain point, Wong Chi-Ming decides that he's had enough of killing, and starts to think about terminating his relationship with his partner.

Back for more bizarreness is He Zhiwu ( Takeshi Kaneshiro), who before was a cop but now is some mute wandering vagrant who does strange things to get noticed in his own way. Here he has lost his ability to speak after eating a can of expired pineapples, a nod back to Chungking. I still have problems with his character, but it's hard not to laugh when he's forcing a guy to eat all of "his" ice cream (and then giving ice cream to his whole family) or pressing a woman to buy "his" vegetables. I suppose the way I feel about He in this film is the exact same way that his father (Man-Lei Chan) does, which is unbearable frustration at the things he is doing, but looking back on them with fondness and tolerance in the bigger picture, or a recording he made of it. He meets a woman named Charlie (Charlie Yeung), who is looking for a woman named Blondie, and he joins her in the quest to find her and they get up to crazy antics. He starts to fall in love with her, and his hair starts to turn blonde, possibly in hopes that she will notice. When she stops using his help, his hair goes back to normal.

While pondering his future, WCM meets a woman with blond hair (the Blondie?) (Karen Mok), who is another free spirit/quirk machine that just comes off as retarded to me. Lonely people trying to get noticed I suppose. I don't know, maybe I'm missing some other point, but I can't get into it. WCM's need for some closeness leads to a one night stand with Blondie, and later as the partner walks by Blondie, she catches a whif of WCM's scent on her. WCM and his partner finally meet and he tells her he wants to terminate their relationship. As a favor, she asks for one more hit, which he agrees to. Once he gets there, he is faced with overwhelming odds and is killed easily. A set-up? Was the partner jealous of Blondie? Angry that their relationship, which barely existed, was being terminated? It's all very ambiguous, and that makes it all the more disturbing to me.

After WCM is dead, He ends up eating in a restaurant where the partner is also eating, and gets into a fight with some other people there. He gets the shit beaten out of him, but still offers a lift on his motorbike when the melancholy partner asks for one. They zip through Hong Kong, possibly starting another relationship, or it could just be another one-off destined to end.

In the end, all individual scenes are composed as microcosms emphasizing Wong's primary themes, which are about loneliness and how people's inability to communicate with each other is the cause of that. People occupy the same space and yet never connect. Each character’s actions and language (or lack) are almost undecipherable to those they wish to communicate with. Distance is emphasized by showing the actors through windows, mirrors, TV monitors, and even a decorative waterfall. Other noticeable motifs starting to show up throughout his films are clocks/time and stairs and escalators/distance. Christopher Doyle's cinematography is just plain awesome as usual, with the wide lenses, reflections, and odd angles really adding to Wong's urban malaise and neon pulse that is his Hong Kong. The one thing that I really enjoyed was that the visual effect employed in Chungking and Ashes of Time (1994) is slowed down to a sumptuous WKW pace, and it really, really works. You can see what is happening and it looks as if the camera is shooting an expressionist painting, the flashes of color seeming to be the strokes of a paint brush. For me the manic improvised scenes don’t quite work, but it's overall a beautiful, funny and sad film which most definitely is worth watching.

1 comment:

Glacier said...

Connor! You forgot to mention how the film is also a riff on John Woo's Chinese movies (the Killer and Hard Boiled) in how it shows the double pistol gun fights (and voilence in general). Wong adds sexuality, and repression where Woo had sentimentality, and bravura.

Also, I always thought of Blondie (or both blondies) as a reference to western, or foreign invasion of Hong Kong. And I think the scene with the blonde blow-up doll is hilarious.

But the movie really gets me at the final shot: "such lovely warmth." and the song "Only You," by the Flying Pickets. British pop with two Chinese actors riding a moped through a Hong Kong tunnel. Quite direct for such an abstract, moody film.