Wong Kar Wai’s Fallen Angels (1995) is a strange, thought-provoking and exciting film about a hitman and his relationship with a cold, alienated partner, a mute, and a girl looking for a former lover. Throughout, we end up seeing just how transient relationships can be, especially within the world of professional killing. The alienation the hitman and the other main characters feel towards the world at large (and each other) provides an interesting perspective that is not normally found in a Hong Kong action film.
The opening shot of the film is very indicative of the theme of the movie as a whole. Two characters (Leon the hitman, and Michelle the partner) are in an elevator, one smoking in the foreground, one looking pensive in the background. The film stock, unlike the rest of the movie, is grainy and black-and-white, indicating a heightened reality.
Many of the shots in the film feature the main characters at a Dutch angle, from far away, lost in their own thoughts. This helps to showcase just how many of the characters are in their own heads. The camera is often either very far away from them or right in their face, in extreme close up. A fisheye lens is also used for the extreme close-ups to create a dreamlike feel to the film, demonstrating just how lost the characters are in thought. Often, the characters have the same blank, emotionless expression on their faces, as they cannot bring themselves to get close to each other.
After his first killing, Leon unexpectedly runs into an old friend from high school. “Everyone has a past, even when you’re a killer. They always ask you the same questions.” Leon thinks this when the old classmate badgers him with questions; he barely responds, as he wishes for the friend to go away. It is a cold reminder to Leon about how much time passes, and how this man who used to be his best friend, is now a stranger to him. The shot indicates this, as the entire conversation is viewed with Leon in the foreground, with a blank, but slightly softening expression, and the friend yammering away at him in the background. While the man is just behind him, the fisheye lens gives it a depth of field that makes him seem farther away, which shows how distant Leon feels towards this former classmate.
The relationship between Leon and his partner, Michelle, is mirrored by another character, Mute, and his relationship with Charlie. Leon and Mute alike both lose each other in their relationships with the other person – Michelle sets up the hits for Leon, making him able to not think about his job at all, whereas Mute takes on Charlie’s quest to look for Blondie, a woman who stole her boyfriend away. As he does this, a bizarre set of blonde hairs grows from him, indicating his appropriation of Charlie’s values. While Mute hopes that, over the course of their quest, Charlie will fall for him, he soon realizes that he is just being used to get her boyfriend back, and he finally makes his own decision to leave, the blond hairs going away once he does that (Leong, 1997).
This is mirrored by the empty relationship between Leon and Michelle. Despite being partners, Michelle has feelings for Leon which he does not reciprocate. Michelle is forced to masturbate in her Chungking apartment while Leon runs around on hits; they barely, if ever, interact. Instead, Michelle is spent hiding away in her apartment, waiting for him to see her the way she wants to.
There is no purely emotional relationship in the film – people want something from each other, and this is indicated by Michelle and Leon’s hitman/arranger relationship, and Mute and Charlie’s attempts to get things from people, like change for a phone or people to con out of their business. This is mostly done out of a realization that all relationships will end; most characters realize this, and so they are emotionally prepared by remaining distant with each other. While Mute does fall in love with Charlie, he equates it to being a store, Charlie being a customer. While she is only there to get something from him, he does not mind, and hopes that she continues to shop there.
With this realization, characters attempt to shy away from nostalgia and live in the moment as much as possible. At the same time, this is shown to be unfulfilling, especially through Michelle’s lust for Leon, and Mute’s love for Charlie. They both want something that is more than just a mere transaction, but it does not happen. The closest glimmer of hope is at the end of the movie, when Michelle gets on the bike with Mute – we do not see where they will go, but Michelle remarks that she “hasn’t been so close to a man for a while. The road isn’t that long, and I know I’m getting off soon. But I’m feeling such warmth this very moment.” She knows the relationship will expire, as most do; however, she wishes to finally enjoy it while it lasts (Leong, 1997).
Fallen Angels [Blu-ray]. Dir. Wong Kar-Wai. Perf. Leon Lai Ming, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Michele Reis. Kino International, 1995. DVD.
Leong, Anthony. “Demystifying Fallen Angels.” Welcome to Anthony Leong’s MediaCircus.net. 1997. Web. 25 May 2011. <http://www.mediacircus.net/fallen.html>.