Fallen Angels is a 1995 Hong Kong neo-noir crime comedy-drama film written and directed by Wong Kar-wai. It features two intertwined storylines—one tells the story of a hitman wishing to leave the criminal underworld (Leon Lai), the prostitute he starts a relationship with (Karen Mok), and his agent, who is infatuated with him (Michelle Reis). The other story is of a mute ex-convict on the run from the police (Takeshi Kaneshiro) and a mentally unstable woman dumped by her boyfriend (Charlie Yeung). Set in 1995 pre-Handover Hong Kong, Fallen Angels explores the characters’ loneliness, their alienation from the situations around them, and yearning for connections in a hectic city.
Wong initially wrote Fallen Angels as the third story of his preceding film, Chungking Express (1994), but split them into two separate movies due to their cumulative length. Similar to Chungking Express, Fallen Angels features a fragmented narrative that emphasises mood and atmosphere over structure. Whereas its predecessor incorporates bright daytime colours, Fallen Angels consists of scenes exclusively shot at night and using darker colours alongside bright neons. Wong considered the two movies to be complementary counterparts exploring contemporary Hong Kong. Cinematographer Christopher Doyle extensively used wide-angle lens to distort the characters’ faces on the screen, conveying their isolation from the surrounding world. Doyle also creates distorted tension in scenes of extreme violence with frantic, out-of-focus visuals. The soundtrack extensively uses trip hop and pop songs to convey mood and maintain an “urban environment” that plays with popular culture.
Fallen Angels was released in September 1995. Upon release, film critics commented that its styles resembled those deployed in Chungking Express; many lamented that Wong had become self-indulgent, though as time went on critics began to be more appreciative of the film. At the 15th Hong Kong Film Awards in 1996, it won three awards: Best Supporting Actress for Mok, Best Cinematography for Doyle, and Best Original Score for Roel A. Garcia and Frankie Chan. Retrospectively, critics commented that though Fallen Angels was not as groundbreaking as its predecessor, it remained one of Wong’s most captivating films, cementing his trademark styles. The film’s abstract, unconventional style, the context in which it was made, and its use of pastiche and intertextuality with regards to both popular culture and its predecessor Chungking Express have led to the movie being described as a postmodern film and as suggesting a postmodern reading.
The movie has since its release encompassed a large cult following, and is also the last film Wong fully shot in his native Hong Kong before embarking on more ambitious international productions.