Freaks     Tod Browning Fallen Angels – Wong Kar-wai

Freaks     Tod Browning Fallen Angels – Wong Kar-wai



Freaks     Tod Browning   (USA; 1932;) Wallace Ford, Leila Hyams,Henry Victor, Daisy and Violter Hilton, Harry Earles, Daisy Earles

viewed Tyneside Cinema 17 Feb 22; ticket: £10.75

Fallen Angels – Wong Kar-wai (HK; 1995) Leon Lai; Michelle Reis, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Charlie Yeung

viewed Star and Shadow Cinema 20 Feb 22; ticket: £7.00


worlds apart

Browning and Kar-wai’s movies are both projections of worlds but very different worlds. ‘Freaks’ is set in and revolves about the moral imperative of the world of the Circus Freaks; ‘Fallen Angels’ is set in Hong Kong and revolves about the amoral world of a people detached from their environment.   Freaks is about the ties that bind the people together into a socially cohesive society; ‘Fallen Angels’ is about the way the HK world breaks the bonds that unite people and castes them adrift in a world of individuated alienation.

‘Freaks’ is defined by its warmth; ‘Fallen Angels’ is defined by its coldness.

‘Freaks’ is about how love and hate stream through the body. Physicality features prominently in Browning’s film: the shared Loving Cup at the Wedding Feast, touch is the way in which the people relate to one another. The body in whatever form it takes, is celebrated by Browning as a vibrant channel for: nurturing pleasure love compassion but also for betrayal and deceit. Both the straights and the freaks accept their bodies as they are. There is no shame, there is a simple openness of the body to the hazards of life.

In Wong Kar-wai’s world there is no love no hate. Life is reduced to the bare functionality of living – survival. The body itself is almost an abstraction; the people who populate his film are fallen angels and angels have no bodies. There is little physical contact between people, and when there is contact it takes the form of brief solace, that is quickly disengaged. The physicality most intensely portrayed is that of the Killer’s Agent who is filmed in two long sequences masturbating, sequences which encapsulate the painful loneliness of this world’s isolation. All that is left to the Killer’s Agent is to subject her body to a tedious desperate futile ritual in order to affirm her physical existence.

‘Freaks’ is a world of contrasts: day and night. love and hate, normal and abnormal. ‘Fallen Angels’ is a world without contrast: there is only darkness; there is only isolation, there is only alienated space. Lack of meaning defines existence, the characters are people in existential crisis.

‘Freaks’ is set on the fairground, in the trailer homes of the circus folk and the intimate space of the ground between them. In ‘Freaks’ the people belong. Their homes speak of: domesticity, preparation of food and drink, intimacy.

‘Fallen Angels’ is all: hard ass fluorescent lighting, long labyrinthine corridors, impersonality. The characters occupy cells rather than living in rooms, cells that are appropriate for fast food, masturbation and the oblivion of sleep.

‘Freaks’ of has a underlying narrative but it’s as a statement of affirmation of life that it is characterised.

‘Fallen Angels’ is structured about the loose intertwining of the lives of its four main characters. It is a statement of the emptyness of existence in a city dedicated to all that defines modernism – its industrialised food poverty of relations impersonality of architecture and design. Accompanied by an upbeat sound track designed to emotionally offset the images, ‘Fallen Angels’ has the feeling of a prolonged extended pop video using the music track as an ironic counterpoint to the bleakness of the visuals and the scenario. Set to music HK as a proving house for loveless worlds to come.

And yet: ‘Freaks’ is of course an idealisation of what was a very harsh world. But even as a movie model, it communicates to its audience something precious about life and social ties.

And yet: ‘Fallen Angels’ however self destructive the environment typified by HK may be, this is the same city which saw in 2019 the brave idealistic protests against Carrie Lam and the imposition of the mainland China mandate. This revolt by predominantly young people was unsuccessful but no one who followed the course of events over two years could deny the commitment bravery and determination of those who were prepared to take on the full might of the state.

adrin neatrour


Author: Star & Shadow

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