Monday, February 22, 2010

Soi Cheang's Accident

Accident (Yi ngoi, 09) comes from Soi Cheang, the director of Diamond Hill, Dog Bite Dog, and Shamo.

Although the experimental Diamond Hill announced a great new talent, it was Dog Bite Dog, the director's eighth feature, that blew me away. A brutal revenge tale with a relentless pace, it attracted the attention of international distributors and inched Cheang up the totem pole. As an enthusiast of cinematic violence, the film ticked the right boxes for me and wore its nihilism on its sleeve. Each second was like a dizzying smack to the back of the head.

Shamo, the director's follow-up, was based on a manga, and reminded me somewhat of Shinya Tsukamoto's Tokyo Fist, a boxing/beating movie so hysterical, it felt like a crazy manga.

Accident feels more like a Johnny To movie, possessing as it does the tone and pace of To's Mad Detective and Vengeance. This is not surprising. To (and his company Milky Way) produced the film. It is slicker than any of Cheang's previous films and the performances are much more subdued.

Louis Koo plays 'The Brain', the head of a small troop of assassins. Koo's job is to make each kill look like an accident. While carrying out a particularly tricky kill involving a wheelchair, tram lines, and electricity, some members of Koo's outfit are killed by an out-of-control vehicle. Being the paranoid type, Koo begins to suspect that this "accident" was no accident at all. The film's second half focuses on Koo's exploration of his own paranoia. He becomes embroiled in a complex mental game with an insurance investigator (Alexander Chan) who may or may not be out to get him.

Although the premise is interesting, the film suffers from a strange inertia. Ultimately, it is only about paranoia, and there isn't quite enough juicy material to push the narrative forward.

A subplot involving one of Koo's operatives, Uncle (Shui-Fan Fung), is milked thoroughly for  its dramatic worth. Uncle is suffering from a form of dementia, and his memory loss plays a key role in the group's disintigration. Suet Lam, a Johnny To regular, is terrific as always, and brings a sense of welcome humor to the proceedings. Still, I wanted to like Accident more.

The staging of the accidents is superb. The suspense Cheang creates with carefully chosen angles and gentle camera moves is palpable. Editing by David M. Richardson, now a veteran of more than 25 Hong Kong movies, is sharp and focused.  The cinematography is somewhat experimental; the many unconventional compositions lend the narrative a sweet freshness. 

Unfortunately, the source material (the script) doesn't quite support the meat of this movie, so the outcome is slightly underwhelming.

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