Short Cuts is a series of smaller reviews and articles, for those of you that only get 5 minutes for lunch.


During the late 1980s the Hong Kong second wave film movement emerged, introducing a sense of style and modernity to the cinema of the territory. With more focus placed on the urban space as opposed to the ultra rich and prosperous, the international film community was shown a dimension of Hong Kong that few, save for the inhabitants and locals, had witnessed before. Films concerning introspection and maturity replaced the commercial productions that had all but dominated this national cinema up until the mid 80’s, and the cinema of Hong Kong began to address the city wide anxieties of dual nationality, conflicting identity and the crises of conscience that developed after the Sino-British joint declaration signed the westernised state back to mainland rule.

For many, the films of Wong Kar Wai encapsulate the spirit of the second wave. His films are highly stylised and artistic depictions of urban solitude that draw influence from western art house cinema and Chinese heritage cinema in equal measure, so as to portray the internal conflict of the Hong Kong national psyche through a visual means. Wong’s 1995 film Fallen Angels released on September 6 of that year, alongside its spiritual companion piece Chungking Express (1994), saw the director at his most kinetic and, until the release of the now classic In the Mood for Love in 2000, his eye for flair at its sharpest.

Fallen Angels, released 20 years ago this month, conceals an intelligent and insightful exploration of the Hong Kong identity, beneath a fashionable romp through the seedy underbelly of the city. Concerning mute assassins, prison escapees, motorcycles and prostitutes as much as it does unrequited love, mental health, the line between comedy and tragedy and life through a lens. Fallen Angels quietly examines the directors own contemplations regarding his national identity, before widening the scope to address this element in the context of the entire culture of the city.

In much the same way as Chungking Express explores the attitudes of the Hong Kong identity through two, sparsely connected, vignettes; Fallen Angels divides its narrative into two separate stories with two divergent tones. The first, a violent journey through the squalid existence of a contract killer and his female partner, is juxtaposed by the melancholy and dreamlike second story, one that follows two damaged, fringe members of society and ends with the vivid and feverish interweaving of cinematic visuals and home shot amateur footage. Both are excellent examples of the differentiating styles that Wong has operated in, the constantly evolving auteur hugely confident in his abilities to mix seemingly disparate ideas and still retain a sense of coherence, vitality and energy.

The ideology of Fallen Angels, and the Hong Kong second wave as a wider circle, is inherently linked to the city itself. Wong, alongside peers Clara Law, Stanley Kwan and Eddie Fong, explore the attitudes of a conflicted identity with the style and flair necessary to carry their art beyond the borders of the city, so as to depict this unique psyche to viewers separated from the region by continents and oceans. This cinema is one of contemporary realism, hiding under the guise of ultra-stylish spectacle.

  • Kristofer Thomas

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