"Fallen Angels" is one of those triumphs of style over substance where even the style gets pretty darn tiresome after awhile.
Ostensibly the story of five people living in Hong Kong's soft white underbelly, the film is more the story of director Wong Kar-Wai and his hand-held camera. The two rarely leave each other's side.
The plot, such as it is, concerns Wong Chi-Ming (Leon Lai), a Hong Kong hit man who loves his life because he never has to make any decisions, only do what he's told. The decisions are left to his "manager" (Michele Reis), who both tells him what to do, then cleans up the mess when he's done. She's in love with him, but he's not so sure commitment involves decision, and we know how averse he is to that. Plus, there's this old flame (high-spirited Karen Mok), a spitfire in a ludicrous orange wig, who has just maybe stolen his heart.
Also on hand is He Zhiwu (Takeshi Kaneshiro), a mute ne'er-do-well who makes his living by either breaking into businesses or annoying people (threatening to cut off their hair, for instance) until they buy his stolen stuff.
He lives with his father -- their relationship is the film's most touching -- and is constantly falling in and out of love (he may be mute, but he can narrate, which explains how we know his story). One of the women he falls in love with is Cherry (Charlie Young), who has problems of her own; her boyfriend's just broken off relations with her.
All of this description perhaps pays more attention to the plot than Kar-Wai did. What he pays far more attention to is his flashy style, all weird angles and slow-motion gunplay (usually with a few gobs of blood splattered on the lens, for effect).
The first 15 minutes, his style is intriguing, probably unlike any you've seen before. But by the end of the film, you'll wish he'd learn another trick.
Directed by Wong Kar-Wai
Released by Kino International (with English subtitles)
Unrated (violence, language, sexual situations) Running time: 96 minutes
Sun score: * 1/2
Pub Date: 8/07/98