The Film (4/5)
About 5 years ago my wife turned me on to the films of director Wong Kar-Wai with his classic Chungking Express. Being an obsessive compulsive film junkie, I became obsessed overnight with seeing every film Wong Kar-Wai had made up to that point. I went so far as to buy the very expensive Kino box set for her as a valentine's day girl a few years back. That is where I first came across Fallen Angels.
Fallen Angels is the companion film to the aforementioned Chungking Express, and because of that pedigree it tends to get judged unfairly in comparison to Chungking. I, however, loved it from the first time I viewed it. Yes, the two stories were ones that were leftover from Chungking Express, and not used until this film. But does that make the lesser stories? The two stories in Chungking utilized themes that worked well together, as do the stories in Fallen Angels.
Fallen Angels tells 2 stories that intersect at one specific point, but otherwise do not relate to each other as far as narrative goes. The first is the story of a hitman, who is in love with his partner, and longs to be with her. She feels the same, neither can muster up the courage to admit it to the other. Also, they work at a distance, she sets up his hits, and cleans up afterwards, and he carries out said hits. The two have never actually met, but there is a connection between them, and neither one really wants to come to terms with it.
The second story is about a mute, who lacking a real career takes over businesses after they close, and runs them as his own. It also depicts his relationship with his Father. The first story is more of a character based drama, the second is sort of like an absurdist tragi-comedy. There are moments in the second half that had me laughing so loud, I was practically drowning out the movie.
Ultimately Wong Kar-Wai's films are less about the actual narrative journey, and more about the mood, emotion, and characters. So the above synopses do not even begin to do this film justice. The film is truly brought to life by the direction of Wong and his frequent collaborator the genius cinematographer Christopher Doyle(The Limits of Control, Hero). The film goes from sharp bright neon colors, and slow motion cinematography to grainy black and white to capture the full range of emotions required to tell these 2 stories, and while the performances in the film speak for themselves, the cinematography adds an extra layer of depth to those performances. It goes beyond a simple recording medium, and becomes a character of the film itself.
As I said in my introduction, I have prior experience with this film on DVD. The older Kino edition was dark, murky, grainy, and had a lot of artifacting. The blu-ray version is a whole new experience. What we have here is a Wong Kar-Wai approved 1080p film transfer, and the result is absolutely gorgeous. The colors pop off the screen, and you can see every slight wrinkle or twitch on the faces of the actors. There is a healthy level of grain, that does not detract from the film, and adds to the cinematic experience. Yes, you're watching a film on discs, but it feels like you are watching FILM.
The audio is presented in DTS HD Master Audio 5.1, and is similarly striking. The sound is clear, and loud. It practically explodes out of the speakers. The dialogue, music, and sound effects are strong, and there is no noticeable grain, or background distortion anywhere on the track.
Kino has provided some nice extras on this set. There are 3 behind the scenes featurettes, a stills gallery, and a very interesting interview with cinematographer Christopher Doyle. Nothing substantial, but a definite improvement over the SD disc.
This is an excellent release of a brilliant film. The blu-ray release is a huge jump in quality from Kino's previous SD release, and looks absolutely fantastic. Fallen Angels is a companion film to Wong Kar-Wai's more popular Chungking Express, and is unfairly maligned in comparison so that film. This is a great film in the director's repertoire and is almost as good, if not as good as Chungking. The blu-ray really makes this film shine with an almost perfect 1080p transfer. The extras are slim, yet informative, and the whole package is a must buy for fans of WKW, Hong Kong Cinema, and great film in general. Between this release and their recent BD of Buster Keaton's The General, Kino is proving to be a leader in the HD revolution.