Festival darling Wong Kar-wai follows up his critically lauded "Chung King Express" with an even more dazzling technical tour de force in "Fallen Angels." But the multi-threaded tale of Hong Kong night creatures is a likely commercial and critical backward step, undone by disjointed narrative and visual razzle-dazzle that undercuts the pic's human dimension.

Festival darling Wong Kar-wai follows up his critically lauded “Chung King Express” with an even more dazzling technical tour de force in “Fallen Angels.” But the multi-threaded tale of Hong Kong night creatures is a likely commercial and critical backward step, undone by disjointed narrative and visual razzle-dazzle that undercuts the pic’s human dimension. It’s a decidedly cutting-edge arthouse item with a nonetheless limited theatrical audience.

The principle characters are Killer (Leon Lai Ming), an assassin without a name, and Ho (Takashi Kaneshiro), a man who takes over closed stores and creates instant convenience outlets. Then there’s the gunman’s female assignment officer and two other women. All five cross paths, the filmmaker finding wry fun in reducing the bustling city to a small after-hours community.

Largely told in voiceover, “Fallen Angels” barrels along pell-mell, employing frenetic cutting, odd angles and distorted lenses. Overall effect is purposely disorienting, unrelieved by character commentary that sounds like thought balloons and is marginally helpful in setting the story’s bearings.

Plot strands are relatively banal. Killer is a self-confessed under-achiever who claims the job’s attraction is in having Agent (Michelle Reis) make all the operational decisions. Blondie (Karen Mok) is mad for him, but Cherry (Charlie Young) believes the unseen Johnny is taking up with Blondie and engages Ho to help her find the vixen. Story sounds considerably more cohesive than the random manner in which it unfolds onscreen.

Still, Wong’s technical mastery and sly observation combine to draw us into the fray almost hypnotically. Abetted by the piercing images of lenser Christopher Doyle, the picture has a vivid, nightmarish quality that’s more inviting than repellent. But the filmmaker mutes the impact by repeatedly cutting away to other settings, as if he lacked confidence in the power of the moment.

So, the drama and comedy arrive truncated, albeit with standout moments that linger long after the fade. “Fallen Angels’” oddball collection of characters proves a fascinating draw into the nighttime maelstrom, and the actors anchor an otherwise hallucinatory vision.

Wong is unquestionably a fierce talent. His past efforts attest to a unique and accomplished command of the medium. What he needs now is a more accessible yarn to break out of his rarefied status and reach a wider audience.

Fallen Angels

Hong Kong

Production

A Jet Tone production. (International sales: Fortissimo Film Sales, Amsterdam.) Produced by Chen Yi-cheng. Executive producer, Wong Kar-wai. Directed, written by Wong Kar-wai.

Crew

Camera (color), Christopher Doyle; editors , William Chang, Wong Ming Lam; music, Frankie Chan, Roel A. Garcia; production design, William Chang; stunt coordinator, Poon Kin-kwun. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival, Sept. 14, 1995. Running time: 95 MIN.

With

Killer - Leon Lai Ming
Ho - Takashi Kaneshiro
Cherry - Charlie Young
Agent - Michelle Reis
Blondie - Karen Mok
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