BRANNAVAN GNANALINGAM reports from the Wellington Film Society. This week: Wong Kar-wai style.

WONG KAR-WAI makes films that are so sexy, you kinda forget his are all about thwarted love, the failure of communication, and the end of the world. In time to come, his films may end up being the visual representation of the 1990s, a decade which may go down as one of the most transformative decades politically, socially, and technologically in human history. Wong’s films are all about the senses, and of time passing, and his hit-man thriller/romance Fallen Angels fits in nicely with the feel of Wong’s best work.

The film features two main narratives: Wong Chi-Min (Leon Lai) is a hit-man decides to tell his business partner (Michele Reis) that he’s done with the killing. However she’s secretly in love with him, even though they have rarely met. A secondary storyline involves He Zhiwu (Takeshi Kaneshiro), who is a businessman involved in running other people’s shops when the shops are closed for the night. He falls in love in typical Wong fashion. The film maintains a frenetic pace (though it does lag a bit in the lead-up to the conclusion), and is probably one of Wong’s more humorous pieces. It’s also evocative of an early Godard piece, with its focus on street-life, use of film homages, and a queasy romantic take on everyday-ness.

Fallen Angels bears a strong likeness to Wong’s previous hit Chungking Express. Comparisons can be made between the two films’ intersecting storylines, narrative similarities (including all-night diners, apartments being cleaned up, moody romantics, character references, or Wong’s depiction of a changing world), and thematic preoccupations. And while Wong’s “music video” aesthetic is frequently accused of simply being superficial, his stories achieve resonance for the way they portray contemporary alienation, technological changes, relationships which just don’t intersect at the right time in the characters’ lives, and urban living in an East-meets-West world. Human relationships are mediated through technology (e.g. video cameras), or through multinational companies.

Long-time collaborator Christopher Doyle adds his usual superlative camerawork to the film, and some startling shots (in particular an early one involving the apartment on the left sign of the frame, and a train on the right side). Wong’s fascination with high/low spatial aesthetics is unabated – the film frequently moves from the top of apartments, to the underground/the street and in this way feels almost like science fiction. He also constantly references ‘time’, whether it’s the stretch printing which literally slows the time down on film, or the constant images of clocks (Wong was constantly referring to 1997, the year Hong Kong was to be handed over to the Chinese by Britain, hence the use both visually and narrative-wise of expiry dates/deadlines). Perhaps the film doesn’t achieve the same thematic resonance with these preoccupations as they do in his masterworks Happy Together and In the Mood for Love. But while Fallen Angels doesn’t have the same impact, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable and moving piece of work by one of contemporary cinema’s most hopelessly romantic cynics.