Saturday, October 22, 2011

Wong Kar-Wai's Fallen Angels (1995)

Even if you don't know that Fallen Angels (1995) grew out of what was meant to be a third story in the previous year's Chungking Express, you may find yourself making connections between the two films.  Common settings (the Chungking Mansions), similar structures (two parallel love stories only tangentially related, only this time they're intercut rather than back-to-back), recurring motifs (canned pineapple, blonde hair) take you there.  And thematically this feels very tied to its predecessor, with its emphasis on relationships doomed before they start by - what, ennui?  Modernity's anomie?

I think the film may be less satisfying on its own, though, then it might have been as a third part of Chungking Express.  I gather that the hitman's storyline here is what was planned for Chungking, which suggests that the other storyline, about the mute played by Kaneshiro Takeshi, was new for this film.  I don't think the two mesh very well. 

Visually, of course, they do because Doyle and Wong are mainly interested, here, in exploring neon-smeared nightscapes rather than telling stories.  But tonally the Kaneshiro storyline is just too light, too goofy;  in theory it probably sounded like it would be a great counterpoint to the hyperviolence of the hitman storyline, but in practice it just gives you whiplash. 

The dual storylines do, however, set off one of the great scenes in Wong's oeuvre, when the woman from the hitman storyline and Kaneshiro's mute finally come together, uniting the two halves of the movie.  They get on his motorcycle and ride off through the same tunnel we've seen Kaneshiro zoom down two or three times already, but this time he emerges from the tunnel, while we hear the woman's voice in voiceover talk about feeling closer to this man than she's felt to anybody for a while, and then the camera's gaze turns up at skyscrapers leaning against a gray dawn sky.  It's the first daylight we've seen in the film, the first semi-open sky, and the sense of release and relief are a powerful payoff.

(As usual, the film is most satisfying from a purely visual standpoint.  The big-city-at-night shots are the equal in atmosphere and beauty of anything ever accomplished.  The combination of omnipresent blackness and lights of sickly intensity and unnatural hue stays with you.)

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