Demystifying Fallen Angels

Essay by Anthony Leong © Copyright 1997


 

"Fallen Angels" was Wong Kar-Wai's 1995 'sequel' to "Chungking Express". It takes place one year after the events of CE and the story revolves around three main characters: Leon, the hitman; Michelle, his partner; and Mute, a mute petty criminal. Though many of the settings are identical to those of CE, FA deals with a different subject matter than CE, and is considerably darker than CE-- the whole film was shot at night. I know I originally said that FA was what happens when Wong Kar-Wai's head explodes, but after having watched it for five times now, I believe I am finally understanding what the film is about, and now I believe that in certain respects, it almost equals CE.

 

The plot is as follows: Leon is a hired hitman and Michelle arranges the hits for him (she happens to live at the Chungking Apartments). Though they seldom see each other, Michelle has some feelings towards Leon, but Leon does not have those same feelings. Leon then meets a woman in McDonalds, and has a brief affair with her. Over the course of a few months, Leon decides to terminate his relationships with both Michelle and the second woman. However, Michelle asks him to do one last favour for her. However, this last favour is a set-up, and Leon is ambushed during the hit. Meanwhile, Mute, who became mute after eating a can of expired pineapple when he was young, breaks into other people's businesses at night and coerces people to buy goods from him, offering some of the funnier moments during the film. He runs into Charlie, a woman obsessed with finding another woman named Blondie, who stole her boyfriend from her. So Mute and Charlie run around looking for Blondie, but the search is fruitless. Mute then falls in love with Charlie, however, not long after, Mute realizes that she is still in love with her former boyfriend and she leaves. A month later, while Mute is working at the Midnight Express, he runs into Charlie, who is now an airline stewardess, but she does not recognize him. As a subplot, Mute steals a video camera from a Japanese restaurant that he was working at and starts videotaping his father, the manager of the Chungking Apartments. His father then dies, and Mute then watches the tapes of his father over and over again. Finally, in the last scene, Michelle and Mute, both alone, meet in a restaurant, one of several coincidental meetings that they have had over the past few months. Michelle asks Mute to take her home and they ride off together on his motorcycle.

 

Both Leon and Mute are involved in pathological relationships in FA, where they lose their identity and make the values of their partners their own. Leon says that "the best thing about his job is that everything has been arranged for him-- who lives, who dies", and that "he doesn't have to make any decisions", which is why he has a partner. Michelle arranges payment, maps out the location of the hit, sets up a safe house for him, and even cleans up after the job is finished. Leon does eventually realize that he must make decisions for himself, however, by then it is too late, as he is being gunned down during the ambush.

Mute finds himself in a moral contradiction, where he breaks into other people's businesses so that "he can be his own boss". He merely takes options that have been created by others, and uses them as his own, instead of creating them. When Mute meets Charlie, the first thing that Charlie does is to pester him for change for the phone, so that she can scream obscenities at Blondie. Charlie then leads Mute around to help track down Blondie. After Mute falls in love with Charlie, blonde hairs begin to sprout from his hair-- he begins to conform to Charlie's values system. After she leaves, the blonde hairs disappear.

The relationships in FA are also an exchange of goods and services, much like those in "Exotica". All the shallow relationships evolve out of some transaction-- Charlie needs change for the phone, Leon needs someone to make decisions for him, and Mute needs customers for his 'businesses'. This postmodernist view on relationships is best exemplified by a speech that Mute makes after he falls in love with Charlie, saying that he feels as though he is a store, and that Charlie is the customer-- he hopes that she will be shopping in his store for a while. After a hit, Leon gets on the bus, where a man sitting behind him recognizes him. The man went to high school with Leon. His friend asks him questions outlining what his possessions are: his business, his wife, his kids. Leon says nothing during the conversation, and merely hands over a fake business card and a fake family picture. His friend then says that they should get together to "do some business and make some money" and that he is an insurance salesman and he can come up with a good policy for Leon. Leon then muses if an insurance company would sell insurance to a hired killer.

Another common feature to Wong Kar-wai's films, the transiency of relationships, is also seen in FA (Wong Kar-Wai the fatalist). If you remember, in CE, this theme was brought out in the 'expiry date' speech, and the drug dealer's habit of always wearing a raincoat and sunglasses, 'just in case'. In the films of Wong Kar-Wai, all the characters eventually come to accept the fact that all relationships will eventually end and to appreciate every moment until the end comes. In FA, when Leon leaves the second woman, he says that "to her, he was only a stopover and that she will reach her destination some day". At the end of the movie, probably the best scene in any of Wong Kar-wai's films, Michelle is riding on the back of Mute's motorcycle and they are racing through an underground tunnel. She says that "I haven't ridden a motorcycle for a long time. Actually, I haven'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." Mute then exhales a puff of cigarette smoke, which drifts up into the air, only to dissipate. The camera then pans upward to an overhead opening in the tunnel, and through it, could be seen several tall skyscrapers. Like the cigarette smoke, according to Wong Kar-wai, relationships form like the puff of smoke, but then quickly lose their cohesion and the particles of smoke quickly drift apart. The shot of the skyscrapers can also be interpreted as the transient nature of Hong Kong, with its return to China in 1997.

 

Wong Kar-wai the hopeless romantic also rears its head in FA. If you remember in CE, the cop speaks about rubbing against other people who may become friends or confidants. In FA, mute also sees hope in his daily dealings with strangers, hoping that rubbing against them will lead to friendship or more. Mute also says that he always looks forward to opportunities to rub against other people, and he'll keep rubbing until it hurts.

Several aspects of the Wong Kar-wai school of filmmaking are not surprisingly found in FA. To emphasize the detachment that the characters feel from the real world because of their emotional turmoil, Wong Kar-wai has some interesting shots with the characters in the foreground, lost in their own thoughts, while in the background, people race by in a blur or fights break out, which the characters do not notice. To show the passage of time, there are many speeded up shots of subways piercing the stillness of the night. There are many cool shots of Leon and Michelle walking around in slow motion as bangra music plays in the background.

Fallen Angels deals with many similar themes to Chunking Express, such as the transiency of relationships, not being trapped by nostalgia, and the opportunities afforded for romance in the cold city. However, Fallen Angels also differs from Chunking Express through its characters that are involved in pathological relationships in which they adopt the values of their partners, instead of creating their own. And it only took five viewings to figure this out.


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