Fallen Angels (February 11/99)
Wong Kar-Wei's Fallen Angels is, on a purely visceral level, one of the most exciting films I've seen in a long while. Unfortunately, Wong seems more interested in experimenting with his camera than creating tangible characters for the audience to root for. Ordinarily, that alone would be enough to sink a movie, but in the case of Fallen Angels, this is not so. Every shot in this film is exciting just to look at. Wong does really interesting things with the camera, but he doesn't allow the pyrotechnics to completely take over, as was the case with last years dismal Knock Off (which contained a shot of a foot entering a shoe. Ugh.)
The movie follows three pairs of lost souls as they struggle to find some meaning in their lives. I can't say much more than that as I didn't really know what was going on most of the time. In fact, it wasn't until about halfway through the movie that I was able to distinguish between each character. The constantly moving camera doesn't really allow for the audience to associate with any one character. We're always kept at a distance from these people, I suppose in order to further add to the feeling of alienation felt by the characters.
Fallen Angels is a refreshing change-of-pace from most Hollywood films, which never bother to try anything different, at least on a visual level. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that Fallen Angels is more challenging visually than any mainstream Hollywood film I've ever seen. Sure, there's directors like Robert Rodriguez who enjoy turning violence into operatic orgies of death, but to see a filmmaker like Wong who actually assaults the senses with images is truly something worth celebrating.
But if Wong wishes to become a legendary filmmaker, he needs to work on incorporating an actual story into those awesome images. There were far too many instances during Fallen Angels in which I asked myself, "now who are these people again? Is this that first couple or the second couple?" It was impossible to keep track. Perhaps he could let the audience know right away which character is which, by introducing them to us with "name cards," as in Scorsese's Mean Streets.
That's really besides the point, though. Wong Kar-Wei has proven himself, through very few films, that's he's a movie-maker to watch. Let's just hope that he hones his storytelling skills with his next few movies.