Not rated, but it is pretty R-Rated. Sure, that sounds like an oxymoron, but I think we all know what that means. After all, the early days of DVDs were littered with things called "The Unrated Cut" and that just meant that it was more raunchy than the original. With this case, it's the very overt sexuality of the film. While I can't attest to nudity in this film, it does feel very graphic when it comes to its content. There's also a fair amount of gunplay and violence, so it's really dinging all the boxes for what should be an R-rated film.
DIRECTOR: Wong Kar-Wai
I really don't want to write what I'm about to write. I'm a human being. It feels odd to write that sentence, but it is one of those facts that I just need to write out before laying out what I'm about to say. As a human being, I am susceptible to moods and distractions like anyone else is. But I also write about every movie that I watch. Being human means understanding that my unique set of circumstances might affect how I appreciate something. I'm watching all of the Wong Kar-Wai box set. It's a gorgeous box set that I can't wait to finish. I'm also watching the complete work of a director in a shorter time frame than most people absorb film. So when I find a movie less than interesting, I have to consider whether or not it's me or if it's the movie.
But I am going to try to justify my negative thoughts about Fallen Angels while hoping that I glean some deep hidden meaning through the course of writing. My biggest problem is that it feels like it is just Chungking Express over again, only less coherent. Part of me says this because these are the two movies that are back-to-back in Wong Kar-Wai's oeuvre. They are a year apart. I often tell my students when they have a hard time writing that they should take a break between drafts or even paragraphs. They can come back a little bit more objectively and distance themselves from the product. I think that Wong Kar-Wai --a genius who doesn't deserve my plebian analysis --is working through the same things that he was working through on Chungking Express in this film. And the thing is --and I really need to stop apologizing if I'm ever going to get this done --Chungking feels really well organized and clean. Fallen Angels, on the other hand, is just an experiment on chaos. There is a chaotic element to Chungking, to be sure, but it is balanced with characters that we can relate to. (Apparently, Chungking Express and Fallen Angels were one film according to Wikipedia, so I should have just watched them together.)
Part of that comes from the world that Wong Kar-Wai is building in Fallen Angels. As the title eludes to, the world is far more depressing in the world of Fallen Angels. Not to say that there aren't bright spots, like when Ho Chi-Mo watches videos of his father, whom he loved. That's where the "angel" element comes in there. But there isn't a lot to really latch onto with the characters of Fallen Angels. Like my complaint with the first of the Wong Kar-Wai movies, it just seems too cool. Everything is so dark and miserable, which is what Hong Kong action always seems to be. I suppose that we got The Matrix and the American gun-fu stuff from this era of Hong Kong cinema. I don't really relate to the weary hitman anymore. Honestly, every time I was watching Wong Chi-Ming's story, it felt like it was an exercise in cool. Cool gets really old to me after a while, especially knowing that I have a box set of one director who, for all his genius, does fall back on cool gun stuff. There's really no need for it. And the fact that these stories eventually intertwine, Wong Chi-Ming's violent storylines tend to taint the other narratives. Because I didn't like Wong Chi-Ming's story, his partner's story becomes even more frustrating.
Part of that comes from the sexual element of the story. The partner has almost no character outside of her sexual obsession with a poorly defined character. I never understood why she was so obsessed with this guy outside of the fact that he was dangerous. It actually took one of the plots from Chungking that I really enjoyed and kind of perverted it. It was weird, but cute when the waitress at the restaurant cleaned the police officer's apartment and he didn't realize. But having that entire moment be sexual kind of changes the way that the scene reads. Part of that comes from the notion of fetishizing behavior. In both scenarios, the woman's role is a little bit toxic. But with the case of Chungking, there's something a little bit romantic about the entire action. There's an innocence in visiting his apartment that we never really get from the partner in Fallen Angels. This leaves the third character the only character that I really care about.
Ho Chi-Mo (which is a different name than the imDb page has listed) actually has a bit of a character arc that I can get behind. While I don't necessarily love that story, there is something I can get behind. Yeah, Wong Kar-Wai is still wading in something that is cool and edgy, but at least he's kind of laughing at himself with the whole thing. The mute escapee's story is meant to infuse a little levity into the whole thing. Both Chungking Express and Fallen Angels are about the relationships that are formed and it is through the mute's levity that we can actually root for someone because there is a redeeming trait. Ho Chi-Mo keeps doing absolutely insane things because of his odd sense of self-preservation. It's funny to see him force people to buy his wares that aren't even his or what he considers appropriate to the nature of commerce. But he's also kind of sweet in his simplicity about what is acceptable. It's why when we meet Charlie, her odd behavior seems appropriate for him. It's left of center and because they are both unique, there's something to latch onto. I mean, it makes sense that this relationship doesn't work out.
It's because Wong Kar-Wai's world should follow the rules of reality, but these people who are the focus of the films don't have to abide by societal norms. As much as Charlie is the focus of the mute escapee, she is running a narrative where she is the hero of her own story. Her story is about getting Johnny back, despite the fact that she probably never had him. While Ho Chi-Mo pines after her, he has no way to communicate his frustrations to her. And it doesn't come down to the fact that he cannot speak. (I seem like a hypocrite for those two sentences.) He never bemoans his own silence. Instead, he simply assumes that Charlie is enamored with him. It's one of those things that, because they are in each others' spheres of influence, that they must bond. But that's not Charlie. Despite the fact that Ho Chi-Mo becomes a fundamentally different person because of Charlie, she has never seen him as anything besides someone who is there. As depressing as this is, he is a walking tissue. He's there to bounce sound off of. She can scream into the void of the universe and there's no judgement because Ho Chi-Mo can't speak. It's what makes her reappearance so tragic. She can't even view him as a person once she's happy because she's never viewed him as a person.
I don't hate depressing ends to romance. Quite the opposite. I tend to like when the romantic leads don't get together. But I also like something to latch onto. It's odd that I can only latch onto Ho Chi-Mo and Charlie because they show some emotional complexity versus the mood of the film that is quite pervading. I know I'm burning some bridges with my disregard of this film, but it doesn't have the same joy that Chungking Express had while maintaining the same format. It's through its juxtaposition that I see the flaws and that's a bummer.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.