- Street Date:
- March 16th, 2010
- Reviewed by:
- Steven Cohen
- Review Date: 1
- March 28th, 2011
- Movie Release Year:
- Kino Video
- 96 Minutes
- MPAA Rating:
- Rated R
- Release Country
- United States
Please welcome Steven Cohen to High-Def Digest!
Steven is an award winning filmmaker, a graduate of the film program at the University of Central Florida, and an avid home theater enthusiast who brings plenty of production background and film knowledge to his reviewing duties for HDD.
The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
A hitman, his lovelorn female partner, a quirky young mute, and his endearing father. Mix these discordant characters together and filter them through a lens as wide as the grand canyon, and you get 'Fallen Angels', a 1995 film from acclaimed Hong Kong director, Wong Kar-Wai. For those unfamiliar with Wai and his filmmaking style, his work more easily relates to the breezy, improvisational flow of jazz music than the more rigid and traditional structure of mainstream Hollywood. This approach can be both dazzling and baffling, often at the same time. Responsible for some truly remarkable films, most notably his masterpiece from 2000 'In the Mood for Love', Wai’s approach can be quite divisive amongst filmgoers. Though undoubtedly beautiful, and often quite innovative in his visual style, when it comes to story and plot, dependent on your taste, Wai’s films can seem lacking, at least when viewed through the prism of contemporary mainstream plotting. For the most part however, I happen to be a big fan of his style of filmmaking, even if the writer in me does occasionally find his lack of focus and cohesion to be frustrating. 'Fallen Angels' is a strong example of his style, and though it mostly stands up with his best work, the film falters slightly where others from Wai, like 'Chungking Express' and 'In the Mood for Love', have succeeded.
Originally conceived to be part of his previous film 'Chungking Express', this film is very similar both stylistically and tonally to that earlier effort. The movie primarily follows two separate plotlines taking place in contemporary Hong Kong which intersect loosely. One story focuses on a hitman looking to get out of the business (Leon Lai) and his relationship with his female partner, who is responsible for setting up his contracts and cleaning up after him. Though they actually have very little interaction with one another, the killer’s partner (Michelle Reis) falls in love with him, and conflict arises when he refuses to reciprocate those feelings. The other story is about a quirky, mute young man (Takeshi Kaneshiro) and his various interactions with his father and a woman he falls in love with. If that brief plot description makes the film’s story seem slightly thin and unfocused, well that’s because it is, but really, it doesn’t matter. Wong Kar-Wai movies aren’t really about plot; they're about mood, tone, and most importantly, images. Though there are indeed shortcomings with the story, which I’ll detail later, thankfully the filmmaking itself mostly makes up for them.
The look of the film and the manner in which it was shot are the real focus here, and both create a chaotic and seemingly unpredictable atmosphere. This frenzied style reinforces the similarly erratic nature of the film’s characters and story. Much of the film is shot with extremely wide lenses, which distort and bend the film frame. The resulting images reveal a stark and disorienting break from reality. The world that Wai’s eccentric characters inhabit is separate from our own. It’s the kind of stylized, twisted world that can only exist on film, and it’s fully realized thanks to the innovative photography of cinematographer Christopher Doyle. Experimentation with frame rate and shutter speed are common place with Doyle in all of Wai's films, and perhaps none more so than 'Fallen Angels'. The technical trickery on display leads to some startling and mesmerizing manipulations of movement on screen, which more often than not effectively relate to and enhance the situations and emotions of the characters.
While a good example of the visually inventive and at times truly exceptional aspects of Wai’s filmmaking, 'Fallen Angels' also exemplifies the weaker aspects of the director’s approach to moviemaking, particularly, as mentioned earlier, his treatment of story. Most of Wai’s films do not have completed scripts before shooting begins. The director instead prefers improvisation. While often this loose and unpredictable style fits well with his visual filmmaking choices, and undoubtedly leads to many of the film’s more likeable quirks and eccentricities, other aspects of the story simply come across as rushed, unfocused, unrealized, and overall undercooked. 'Fallen Angels' leaves viewers with this feeling more than any other Wong Kar Wai film that I’ve seen (with the possible exception of his English language film, 'My Blueberry Nights'). Things simply seem a bit off at times when it comes to plot and structure. At its worst, some sequences come across as existing just to demo some interesting camera techniques put to a piece of music the director likes, though honestly, I’m not sure there’s anything wrong with that. Ultimately, whether you can get behind the film’s emphasis on images and tone, and not story, will come down to your own personal taste in film. I myself find it both refreshing and frustrating, though more the former than the latter.
Overall, 'Fallen Angels' is a visually innovative but loosely constructed film. There is a certain charm to its characters, particularly the mute and his father, but the improvisational and sometimes meandering nature of its plot will definitely put off some, especially those who are not familiar with the director’s other films. For fans of Wai’s works, or those who enjoy more experimental and unconventional styles of filmmaking, it’s definitely worth checking out.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
Thankfully Kino has done a pretty great job of transferring what surely was a fairly tricky film to Blu-ray. Presented in 1080p in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, 'Fallen Angels' handles the erratic and hypnotic images of Wong Kar-Wai and Christopher Doyle well.
The film likes to experiment with its style throughout and some scenes do vary slightly in quality from others. Grain is present and looks mostly natural, though some shots appear softer than others. The neon lights of Hong Kong pop off the screen and the black and white sequences bounce with high contrast. Overall, the film looks quite good on Blu-ray, and even though there are some minor inconsistencies, there is nothing in the transfer that leads me to believe that it does not accurately represent the filmmaker’s intentions.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
Perfectly serviceable but not much else. Nothing out of place or off, but conversely nothing too impressive. The track is mostly front loaded, though the surrounds do get some appropriate use, particularly during the first shootout sequence and during scenes in the rain. The Cantonese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track features crisp dialogue and optional English subtitles. Overall, nothing to complain about or get too excited about here. A slightly above average audio track.
The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff
Not a whole lot here, and what is, is only mildly interesting, and actually, like the film itself, a little strange. All of the extras are presented in 1080i, though oddly, they are not anamorphic and appear pillar boxed and letter boxed on a wide screen TV.
- Only You (HD, 8 min) - The first feature supposedly focuses on the genesis of the film and how it grew out of 'Chungking Express', though the director really only talks about that for a
minute or so. The rest of the feature basically becomes a montage of what appeared to be deleted footage of Takeshi Kaneshiro and Michelle Reis’ characters. From the looks of it, the edited together footage
seems to take place after the conclusion of the film and as such works as a kind of extended alternate ending to the film. While not revelatory, for fans, these scenes may be of
interest. I was actually surprised by how affecting these brief bits of extra footage were, which I suppose speaks to the power of Wai's images. Well that, or I'm just a sucker for the Flying Pickets version
of 'Only You' which plays incessantly over this and most of the other extras.
- Whom You Miss (HD, 4 min) - A mildly entertaining feature about Man-Lei Chan, the actor who played the mute’s father. Apparently he’s seen the film twice and still doesn’t know what
- A Beautiful Ending (HD, 4 min) - The last featurette focuses on the ending scene of the film which was actually the first scene shot. There’s some interesting behind the scenes footage
here, though more would have been appreciated.
- Christopher Doyle Interview (HD, 7 min) - The last substantial extra outside of some trailers and stills, is a slightly odd interview with the Director of Photography, Christopher
Doyle, which sees the cinematographer talk about his process while sitting in various positions by a bar. At one point during the interview he ends up lying stomach down across the counter. Really, he does.
Eccentricities aside, there are some interesting bits in here and again more extensive interviews and behind the scenes footage would have made for a more worthwhile package.
- Trailers - Trailers for 'Fallen Angels' and another Wong Kar-Wai film 'Happy Together' are presented in full 1080p resolution.
- Stills Gallery - A gallery of thirty two stills from the film.
HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?
There are no high-def exclusives.
Overall, 'Fallen Angels' is a hypnotic, image centered film with a loose plot that may disappoint or lose viewers who are more interested in traditional narrative filmmaking. For those who like Wong Kar- Wai’s other films or are more open to experimental and formalistic styles of filmmaking, there is a lot to like here, and this Blu-ray disc from Kino respectfully presents the film in good quality, though unfortunately it is lacking in substantial features.
- BD-25 Single Layer
- Region A
- 1080/AVC MPEG-4
- Cantonese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround
- Behind the scenes featurettes
- Interview with cinematographer Christopher Doyle
- Stills gallery
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