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The Mission (1999) October 31, 2007

Posted by Cal in : Thriller, 1990s films , trackback

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…


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