2019 Tarkovsky Prize Honorable Mention: Jessica Schott-Rosenfield
(14, Ruth Asawa School of the Arts)
Wong Kar-wai’s Fallen Angels
Fallen Angels is a 1995 drama film set in Hong Kong, written and directed by Wong Kar-wai. The film follows two separate stories, which overlap only by chance, and very rarely. The viewer is first introduced to a hit man by the name of Wong Chi-Ming, and a woman who acts as his partner, cleaning his apartment, and faxing him blueprints on the areas he is meant to hit. They have almost never met throughout their three years of working together. Throughout the course of the movie, Chi-Ming finds that the killing business has lost its allure, and eventually decides to quit. He does not know that his partner is in love with him, and when he separates himself from their connection, she puts out a hit on him, taking revenge on the realization that her dream of love is impossible. In another part of the city lives Ho Chi Mo, a young mute man still living with his father, and earning little money with his hobby of sneaking into businesses at night and running them. Often in his midnight revels, he runs into Charlie, a woman recovering from a breakup, who cries on his shoulder and takes him along in a search for her ex-lover’s fiance, Blondie. Kar-Wai uses symbolism, a musical tone, and limited dialogue to create a pair of love stories which are both visually stimulating and thought provoking. Fallen Angels a uniquely beautiful and unusual representation of love.
The plot lines’ tones differ greatly from each other, an aspect which might be expected to have the result of chaos in transitions between them. However, the use of sound separates each character and tone from one another, pacing the film. Wong’s story is far more crime-centered and dark than that of Ho’s, and so he is given dark and ominous theme music. This puts the watcher back into Wong’s story, after seeing Ho’s more comedic and romantic scenes. In addition to the music, the fact that the cinematography is so flashy, using bright color as a constant medium, it can be difficult to distinguish set design or physical context, and so the soundtrack assists the watcher by creating a stability to the ever-changing camera angles. Since music plays such a large role in the establishment of the mood, the effects of silence or dialogue are heightened, abruptly causing the watcher to start to pay closer attention. It is an effective technique in hooking the watcher, and clarifying a change in the storyline.
The symbolism in Fallen Angels arises mainly in one character called Blondie, who represents the enemy of every woman who has gotten her heart broken. Blondie appears first as a woman who meets Wong at a fast food restaurant, and encourages him to return to her home with her. Here, she is an onscreen presence, a real character. She next appears as the unseen fiance of Charlie’s ex-boyfriend, and the object of her hate. Charlie and Ho embark on a hunt for Blondie, never finding her. The theory that Blondie is a symbol for the adversary of every heartbroken woman is confirmed by a scene in which Charlie and Ho sit in a restaurant, and suddenly hear someone referred to as “Blondie.” Charlie whirls around, along with every other woman in the restaurant, and all begin to attack this person as one, despite the fact that he is, in fact, a man who could not possibly be the “other woman” they are looking for. These actions display the frenzied and invalid vengeance of Charlie, as well as every woman who has lost their love to her.
Much of the movie is comprised of silent imagery, with a distinct lack of dialogue, which requires the complete focus of every person experiencing the plotline, at the risk of missing an important subtlety. In the first few scenes, there is little backstory in words, but much of it is shown through images. The watcher first sees Wong’s partner climb the steps of a bus station, and enter a dingy apartment, which she cleans thoroughly in a club dress and then leaves. The watcher then sees Wong climb the same steps and enter the same apartment, but do nothing except go to sleep. These movements show in detail the working dynamic of two characters, without explanation through dialogue. This aspect of the plot is important to a watcher’s understanding of the film, and so demands a stark concentration.
Wong Kar-Wai’s Fallen Angels is unusual in its portrayal of love, in that it maintains a theme of heartbreak and negativity. No character’s dream of love is ever fulfilled, but throughout the film, each one learns something about themselves, or another person, in getting past their brushes with unrealistic infatuation. With technical skill and unique storytelling, Wong Kar-Wai creates an experience which is not easily forgettable.