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Fallen Angels
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by Jay Seaver

"They're no angels, but they're not quite monsters, either."
4 stars

Infatuation is a funny thing. It looks and feels a whole lot like love, and who's to say where the border between them is? And infatuation isn't wholly a bad thing, especially if you can see it for what it is and have reason to believe that genuine love isn't going to be reciprocated. Fallen Angels is about infatuations displayed by four people who might, let's face it, have trouble finding soulmates. It's a zippy movie populated by eccentrics who provide the material for dark comedy, staying well away from sentimentality and only occasionally stooping to cruelty.

Why don't these folks seem likely to meet someone nice and settle down? Well, Wong Chi-Ming (Leon Lai) is a hitman, but more than that, he doesn't have a lot of initiative. He figures life is easier when there's someone telling him what to do. His murders are detailed plans worked out beforehand by his nameless agent (Michelle Reis). She's sexy, but filled with the kind of amoral confidence her job requires, and, besides, she's infatuated with her partner, despite never having met him face to face. On the other side of town, there's He Zhiwu (Takeshi Kaneshiro), who has been mute since his father fed him a can of spoiled pineapple when he was five. He's a nocturnal sort, with a habit of breaking into street vendors' booths and then forcing people to do business with him. Charlie (Charlie Yeung) is about the only person who willingly spends time with him, but that mostly seems to be because he doesn't interrupt her own rantings about how the world has it in for her.

A brush with the law gets the hitman considering a career change - he asks the bartender at the sushi place where he and Zhiwu hang out separately how much one of those costs - but he doesn't want to leave his partner with nothing, so he accepts one last job. She's got no interest in leaving the business, and besides, who'll clean Wong's apartment and tell him what to do if they split up? Meanwhile, Charlie's nursing a grudge against "Blondie", whom she claims stole her boyfriend. He Zhiwu decides to help her track this Blondie down because, hey, it fills the evening and it's a reason to spend time with a girl who doesn't treat him like he's some sort of freak.

I don't think that we ever see the light of day in [i}Fallen Angels; it's a world of nightclubs, all-night restaurants, and insufficiently lit streets lined with shops closed until the next day. It's a shadow world, one in which these characters live either because what they do isn't allowed during the light of day or because they make normal people nervous. They're not banished, though - they choose to live there. It's an environment in which they can be themselves, and can be as bold as they want without polite society censuring them. I think the agent is the only one truly aware of this, and she plays it up, conspicuously vamping her way through a club, then drawing a schematic in magic marker for Wong to use.

None of the characters are exactly nice people, but writer/director Wong Kar-Wai is skilled at balancing them so that the audience stays interested. Charlie, in particular, could wear out her welcome rather quickly, but we see little of her when she's not paired with Zhiwu. Also, we get narration from the men, which makes them seem less threatening; there's an innocence to their tones in the voice-overs that belie their aggressive actions. It is, initially, a bit odd to have portions of the movie narrated by a mute, but it's all present-tense, a look at what he's thinking; it's not like he's telling someone else.

The characterizations and portrayals are relatively simple; Lai, Reis, Kaneshiro, and Yeung maintain the same tone throughout the film. Perhaps this is due to the film's origin as a third part of Chungking Express; I imagine the Takeshi Kaneshiro storyline was added to fill it out to feature length. Simple doesn't mean unbelievable, though - though most characters are at the least eccentric, we buy into them, maybe not enough to actually like them, but enough to be interested. And it's funny, though often in a creepy way - some of these characters are just weird, such as the Michelle Reis's character and her tendency to clean in latex, or how Zhiwu inspires a look of dread from people who have visited his shops before.

Fallen Angels is a nifty little yarn, with another nifty story attached. It's not much more than that, but it still makes for a solid hour and a half of movie entertainment.

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originally posted: 05/19/05 07:14:39
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  DVD: 02-Sep-2003



Directed by
  Kar Wai Wong

Written by
  Kar Wai Wong

  Leon Lai
  Michelle Reis
  Takeshi Kaneshiro
  Charlie Yeung
  Karen Mok
  Fai-hung Chan

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