Fallen Angels is a 1995 film from the incredible Hong Kong director Wong Kar-Wai, and focuses on the intertwining of lives amid the criminal underbelly of 90s Hong Kong. Through rainy, neon-drenched streets we follow a multitude of characters each with their own charming idiosyncrasies, and we watch their lives unfold through the lightning-fast freewheeling camera movements of the film’s cinematographer, Christopher Doyle.
Through rainy, neon-drenched streets we follow a multitude of characters each with their own charming idiosyncrasies
The most obvious accolade of Fallen Angels is its lush aesthetic style, which, in my experience, is yet to be replicated by any other filmmaker to such a unique degree. The atmosphere is best described as ghostly, ethereal, and aloof, yet tinted with romance and humour, making for an aesthetic profile that you will not find anywhere else. One hallmark of Wong Kar-Wai’s iconic style is the use of reduced shutter speed, resulting in a blurry slow-motion effect which makes the image on screen appear almost like water—he will frequently turn to this technique during shootout scenes in which characters are diving, running around, and falling dead. Another is the handheld, close up camera angle which punctuates most scenes. The lenses used are often ultra-wide-angle, capturing a whole room in the frame whilst remaining pressed up against a character’s face. This gives the overall impression that what we are watching was recorded by someone running around with a small video camera, yet the film retains the carefully controlled precision of a professional feature.
The atmosphere is best described as ghostly, ethereal, and aloof, yet tinted with romance and humour, making for an aesthetic profile that you will not find anywhere else.
I was lucky enough to see this in the cinema at the British Film Institute in London, and one thing that stood out to me watching it there versus the ten or so times I’d seen it at home was the beauty of the soundtrack (which I highly recommend checking out on Spotify). The punchy thrum of Massive attack’s “Karmacoma” or Laurie Anderson’s “Speak My Language” provide a chilling accent to the cold walk of an assassin through the grimy subway or back-alley cocktail bars, and the soaring vocals of The Flying Pickets’ “Only You” heightens the emotional resonance of the more affectionate scenes, like the famous image of the two main protagonists riding through the green-lit tunnel on the back of a motorbike. The score reflects a duality in the film which I love—there are emotionally detached character portrayals throughout, yet the film maintains a heartfelt through-thread with particular relationships that becomes genuinely emotionally affecting.
One final fun fact is that the production of Fallen Angels was also intertwined with another of Wong Kar-Wai’s films—a sister production called Chungking Express (1994), which I would also highly recommend, and the two were originally intended to be one singular film. However, during the production process the project bifurcated, and Fallen Angels took on the form of Chungking Express’ darker sibling.