Wong Kar-wai’s Fallen Angels (1995) spotlights nocturnal rovers, who cross paths in the metropolis, while attending to delinquent business or hunting for some outlet to make their nights a little less lonely. Their senses seem subliminal, floating on the brink of pyretic lethargy, as they contemplate and contend with their human frailty and futility. An opaque, inexplicable isolation seems to throb in their veins, expressed erratically by silent sighs or frantic outbursts, which consumes their beings entirely until they become shadows themselves.
The avenues scintillate in the light of the bars and traffic; its people, essentially broken, are electrified by the fumes of the night or the smoke of their cigarettes. A hitman (Leon Lai) hits the Hong Kong underworld in slow motion with all the coolness of a ritual, to complete the mission assigned by his agent (Michelle Reis), while the latter faxes him the requisite figures. Bullets fly with godlike speed and time races like a heart left on trepidation between life and death; as he fires, shotguns in both hands, in claustrophobic spaces packed with filth and inebriation. The scene of extermination is colossally movie-like, despite the pathetic realism dripping off the screen, as if the events are caught on a plane jammed in the midst of surrealism.
The camera revolves hysterically to perfect the panic of the moment, while a series of ostensibly hallucinatory events flash upon, a murkier playback of Chungking Express, as the assassin parallels the woman in blonde wig, a drug dealer who wreaks havoc, by hit and run. His agent tidying up his shambolic apartment and hoping to make a difference in his life is reverberant of Faye Wong trying to spruce up Cop 663’s life the same way. Despite their clear connexions, the realm of Fallen Angels is one where commonplace tragedies are washed, not with the gleam of casual routine, but with the soft focus of a gangster lifestyle, the instability of time and motion, enervating and ever-diverging emotions, ends that don’t meet, stories that don’t happen.
He Zhiwu (Takeshi Kaneshiro), cop 223 from Chungking Express, makes a comeback, more frivolous than ever, with his good old philosophies regarding expired pineapples and the transience of everything. In Fallen Angels, his character, mute and juvenile, serves as comical foil to the criminal edginess and hypertension of the assassin; their stories sequenced in alternative layers, until we see no more of the killer after a cyclone of hues and cries in what was probably his last mission. The sirens of his iniquitous vocation are rolled off in heavy metallic rap; whereas Zhiwu’s shenanigans are parodied by happy go lucky tunes that serve to sugar-coat his inherently dejected, yet somewhat oblivious, ‘fallen’ state. Zhiwu’s crazed escapades with Charlie coincide with the killer’s one night stand with Blondie; while they all simultaneously recover from and are reinjected with agony.
Zhiwu’s juvenile sprees with Charlie, especially their nimble dodging in the bar fight, provide room for sparks from Zhiwu’s side, while Charlie sits by him pensive and passive, in a smog rinsed screen. The flavour of life in Fallen Angels is bitter like alcohol; and the racing halogen colours render seemingly real events pungent of dreams and delirium. The lens, drenched in absinthe, is warped at the edges like a magnifying glass, to amplify the focus on every phizzog. Words left unspoken are often voiced in a train of thought, as facial expressions communicate volubly. There are abrupt cuts, temporal and angular disjunctions as the panorama of the begrimed urban hell is shifted and blurred every now and then.
The killer and his boss sit in retrospect in the same red-lit bar, disconnected by time and feeling, allowing emptiness to close in individually evoke the radical alienation of an Edward Hopper painting: one restructured in the 21st century, a world that reeks of corrosion. Teresa Teng’s ‘Mong Gei Ta’ (Forget him) plays in the jukebox, as the agent drowns herself in the dregs of passion, wallowing in the scars left by her right hand man. The existentialist poetry is taken to the next level with streets and subways witnessing line-ups of disappearing people, dim lit motels growing dimmer by the hour and the harrowing way in which the alleys swallow the darkness in every nook and cranny.
The inner lives of these drifters signify the lives of all Hong Kong inhabitants at large, fragmented and hollowed out by an inability to put their life on track. Neon lights dance perpetually, like human yearning flickering in the dark of nihilism, or the final ions of remembrance before they sink in amnesia.
The film’s closing scene is a statement of triumph, a promise of healing, as sensations ignite between Zhiwu, bruised in yet another bar fight, and the agent, deciding to let her hair down, readjusts her fringes to be her former emo self. The long zany ride of Fallen Angels is stretched to infinity with the plush sonic effects of “Only you” as they ride away on his motorbike on an endless road, amidst the blurriness that underlines their very existence.