"Daddy, daddy/ Speak my language," croons Laurie Anderson on the soundtrack, while one of Fallen Angels' half-dozen lovelorn characters weeps, masturbates, and broods -- the only languages she seems to know. In Wong Kar-Wai's Hong Kong, everyone's in love with the wrong people and painfully aware of it, and so they all moon endlessly, smoking cigarettes, gazing into space, and listening to their own inner jukebox of sad songs. Meanwhile, in voice-over, they tell their stories -- but whether it's to us, or to themselves, is one of the movie's many secrets. Fallen Angels is sort of a continuation of the director's earlier Chungking Express, as Wong takes a few leftover Chungking stories and weaves them together with no fealty to narrative drive or logic, following instead the rhythms of music and chance. It's a dazzling, unique technique -- no one makes movies like Wong Kar-Wai. But Fallen Angels feels somewhat like a holding pattern: Wong's repeating himself a little too much, and not extending himself as much as you'd like. He relies too much on whimsy for humor, and on his cast's charisma to keep us interested. Leon Lai, as a melancholy hit man, is unfortunately charisma-free, while Karen Mok, as a prostitute in love with him, is a force of nature who takes over the movie every moment she's on. Takeshi Kaneshiro gets the most screen time here, as a mute who makes his living breaking into businesses after hours -- a barber shop, a butcher shop, even an ice cream truck -- and running them himself. (Kaneshiro played the cop who ate the pineapple in Chung-king; in one of Angels' several serendipitous homages, his character here lost his voice as a child by eating a tainted can of pineapple.) The film is clearly in love with the shamelessly mugging Kaneshiro; the best and the worst of the movie shows up in his story. But one of the wonders of Wong's films is the way he can take a scene from the merely funny or cute to the suddenly, miraculously, deeply tender with a simple music cue, or a repeated voice-over phrase, or by the way, in Fallen Angels, one character, and then another, rewatches a goofy home video. Though Fallen Angels occasionally skirts tedium in its obsessive melancholy, it's also full of enough truly miraculous moments to call it a wonderful movie.
-- Tod Booth
Fallen Angels opens Friday, Jan. 30, at the Roxie. See Reps Etc., Page 65, for schedule.