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The Mission (1999) October 31, 2007

Posted by Cal in : Thriller, 1990s films , add a comment

Director: Johnnie To  Cast: Anthony Wong, Lam Suet, Francis Ng, Jackie Lui, Roy Cheung, Simon Yam  Territory: Hong Kong  Production Company: Milkyway Image

Triad boss Lung (Eddie Ko) is targeted for assassination by persons unknown.  Mid-level gangster Frank (Simon Yam) assembles a team of bodyguards to keep Lung safe and to draw out the assassin.  These turn out to be Curtis (Anthony Wong), Shin (Jackie Lui), Roy (Francis Ng), Mike (Roy Cheung) and James (Lam Suet).

It seems like a simplistic plot, and in a way it is, but Johnnie To’s The Mission is a lot more involved than it first appears.  Besides, the real meat of the film can’t be mentioned without causing some serious spoilers for anyone who’s never seen it.

The team of bodyguards is assembled without the viewer knowing anything about them, and this causes some confusion (well, it did with me, anyway).  Their backgrounds aren’t talked about (except for Curtis, who is a hairdresser in his other life!) and until things get underway you’re left wondering what the hell’s going on too much of the time.  It was obviously a deliberate ploy by To to give the characters an air of mystery, but in my opinion, he achieves this a little too well.  It comes as a great relief when things eventually settle down and everything clicks into place, and I strongly suspect this will be a much more enjoyable film to watch on second viewing.

Look, Mom, please don't phone me when I'm doing my gangster stuff, OK? 

There are some great touches, such as when the gangsters are waiting around for their boss and decide to kick a crumpled ball of paper to each other to while away the time.  It’s a human touch that is lacking from too many films of this nature, and makes what follows surprisingly believable. 

The gunfights are also handled in a very different way from your standard “Heroic Bloodshed”.  In one stand out scene, the gang seem almost bored by an attack on them.  Showing the mundanity of “another day at the office” for a gang of gun-wielding killers sends shivers down the spine.

Acting throughout is outstanding, and Anthony Wong shows his usual understated flair.  The supporting actors, many of who would reappear for To’s Exiled in 2006, also perform brilliantly.  The only flaw to the film is a rather by-the-numbers synth score and the aforementioned difficulty of the early stages of the film.

THE MISSION is to escalators what INFERNAL AFFAIRS is to rooftops!

Unfortunately, the Mei-Ah disc from Hong Kong is a travesty.  For some reason, the distributor’s caption seems to have burned itself on the print and appears like a kind of watermark through the entire film.  If that wasn’t enough, the picture transfer is shoddy anyway, and the sound is muffled and muddy.  It actually looks like a VHS bootleg, and this kind of thing it totally unacceptable for any film made in the last ten years, let alone one as good as this.  My copy also came from Hong Kong with a big dent in the cover like someone had spent a fair while sitting on it, but I realise that this might not apply to all copies of the disc…

Daredevils (1979) October 28, 2007

Posted by Cal in : 1970s films, Kung Fu , 14 comments

Things have been a bit quiet here for a few weeks for a couple of reasons.  I’ve been writing about some non-Hong Kong movies (such things do exist, apparently) and more recent HK releases over at Obsessed With Film.  The other is a self-imposed abstention from Kung Fu films which has lasted a good three months.  Such fasting is necessary sometimes to keep from becoming blasé about the subject, and it has built up my appetite for this particular film, which I’ve been looking forward to ever since seeing Crippled Avengers.  Although I’m looking to get a more varied movie diet in the next few weeks (for example, I’m going to be looking at some more Johnny To films in the near future) I don’t want this blog to die completely and will continue to use it to promote Kung Fu films.  So without further ado, I give you this evening’s feature presentation…

Director: Chang Cheh  Cast: Phillip Kwok, Chiang Sheng, Wong Lik, Sun Chien, Lo Meng, Lu Feng  Territory: Hong Kong  Production Company: Shaw Brothers

There’s a plot in here relating to an evil warlord that kills off one of our heroes’ family, but it’s all very strained and perfunctory.  Actually, a lot of the movie is quite perfunctory and there’s a general half-arsedness (if that’s a real word) to it all.

A case in point is the whole middle section, which is flatter than an unusually flat pancake that’s been gone over by a steamroller.  There’s an attempt at intrigue (I guess this was around the time the Chor Yuen films were popular) involving the sale of a non-existent weapons cache and it just falls on its face.  And it seems to go on for months!

This is from the team behind the now legendary Five Venoms and the new love of my life, Crippled Avengers.  The Venoms themselves are on fine form, and leap about with great aplomb.  But Chang Cheh, as usual, shows he was utterly incapable of consistency.  There’s also a worrying turn towards comedy (again, another film that was doing great box-office around this time was Drunken Master) with some of the routines and the Venoms doing comedy just doesn’t feel right at all.

 

There are high points.  Oh yes, there are high points.  For example, for connoisseurs of the nunchaku this film is a must-see.  We have a couple of blazing scenes involving the weapon, including the best with Lo Meng (who will forever be remembered as the Toad from Five Venoms) who is simply stunning with them.  As well as this, the last fifteen minutes are action packed and very compelling. 

Us two get extra cash 'cos we were in the original Venom movie and you weren't! 

I am not the type of fan who demands action all the way through a film (and often complain when presented with such), but the unevenness of Daredevils is a hurdle that is simply insurmountable.  Were it not for the truly horrid attempt at being a second-rate thriller (and failing) and the lacklustre approach to the story and characterisation (we simply do not know enough about the characters or why they seem to be bonded to each other) there would be much to enjoy.  Sadly, though, Daredevils misfires far too often to be truly enjoyable.

Relentless (2007) October 4, 2007

Posted by Cal in : Action , add a comment

Director: Vlad Rimburg  Cast: Allen Jo, Sam Yu, George Crayton 

I’ve seen Vlad Rimburg’s stuff before, but not having a broadband connection meant that I missed out on them for years.  Now that things like a 167MB download doesn’t make me turn white with fright I can finally catch up.

His latest, Relentless, is unsurprisingly more accomplished than anything I watched back in the early 00’s from his team.  It is basically a five minute revenge movie with a great fight scene.  I really like the refreshing fact that there’s no blue-screen or CGI stuff in this.  It reminds me why I fell in love with Hong Kong action movies – it’s all flesh and blood and meaty sound effects! 

With some great choreography, some good editing and a nice soundtrack, Relentless is the best action short I’ve seen for ages.  Have a look for yourself – you can download the film for free here.

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