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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 7.69%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 0%

2 reviews, 1 rating

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by Jay Seaver

"Johnnie knows action. Johnny knows cool."
5 stars

If you know world genre cinema, you know director Johnnie To - and if you don't, this isn't a bad place to start; much of the dialog is even in English if subtitles are an issue. He's one of the best and most prolific directors working in Hong Kong right now, a man makes criminals compelling and can stage a gunfight as well as anybody. There's a good chance you don't know Johnny Hallyday, though; a popular singer and actor in France, his films have not frequently traveled to America. Whether the audience is familiar with Johnnie or Johnny, they'll likely find the pair a potent combination.

After a brutal attack on her family leaves Irene Thompson (Sylvie Testud) gravely wounded, her father Francis Costello (Hallyday) comes to Macau, where Irene had been living. Though Costello introduces himself as a restauranteur, few chefs have his imposing presence, or have their daughters silently demand vengeance. He's out of his element in Macau, so when the police bring him in as an eyewitness to a separate crime, he doesn't finger the man he saw but instead hires the crew - Kwai (Anthony Wong Chau-sang), Chu (Lam Ka-tung), and Lok (Lam Suet) - to help him track down his quarry. Quickly, he hopes, because he is facing some rather urgent time constraints.

Johnnie To directs from a screenplay by frequent collaborator Wai Ka-fai, and while not everything they do is a polished crime picture, that's what pays the bills at their Milkyway production company, and they've gotten rather good at them. Not just in the staging of an action set piece, but in creating a feeling of camaraderie and danger; the story offers opportunities for loyalty and betrayal, with opportunities to have its gangsters display a code of honor (of sorts) without getting terribly sentimental about it or pretending that these are especially noble people. Indeed, the last half of the movie is spent wondering whether or not there is a point to this revenge, and whether characters are hunters or merely weapons. Wai Ka-fai makes sure that what we're seeing is not just a vanilla crime flick, either. It takes an unusual turn in that second half, one that is somewhat derivative but unusual enough to keep the audience thinking a bit.

To, meanwhile, stages some of his more creative action scenes. Macau always seems to bring out the best in him, and while one of the best pieces happens in Hong Kong - a shootout by moonlight, where the action stops when clouds cover the moon and no-one can see - it's all impressive, from the brutal way gunmen interrupt Irene's dinner preparations at the start (even more than usual in To's films, making dinner means safety and family here), to the almost surreal gunfight in a garbage dump, to the bleak final confrontation. To lays the action out in space in a way that is clear and beautiful, in its way, with the camera often pulled back enough to show the geometry of the situation.

And then there's Johnny Hallyday in the center of everything. He's worn but fit, with a face to match, creased but lean, and when he takes off his sunglasses he reveals blue-gray eyes so pale that they can either be piercing lasers or give the impression of a man lost and blind. He moves with determination, but the grim manner can fall away in the face of a simple pleasure, such as cooking or testing a gun. At the climax, he's an impressive mix of cool rage and utter confusion. Though the role was originally written for Alain Delon - Costello's name is even an homage to Le Samourai - Hallyday makes it his own.

The Chinese cast is impressive too, starting with Anthony Wong Chau-sang as the leader of the men Costello enlists. He gives Kwai a quiet intelligence, seldom raising his voice but making us acutely aware that he understands Costello's position and knows where the road he's on leads from the start. Lam Ka-tung's Chu is more emotional, while To stalwart Lam Suet is able to bring comic relief without undercutting the others. Another familiar face, Simon Yam, makes for a wonderfully manic villain.

There are a few missteps, especially toward the end (not in the climax, but little hiccups in getting there), but they are minor. Johnnie To is just too good at crime, and Johnny Hallyday is just too good at cool.

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originally posted: 08/22/10 00:59:33
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Festival de Cannes For more in the 2009 Festival de Cannes series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Actionfest 2010 For more in the Actionfest 2010 series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Seattle International Film Festival For more in the 2010 Seattle International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

3/03/11 chris c Good mix of Memento and The Killer 4 stars
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  N/A (NR)
  DVD: 16-Nov-2010



Directed by
  Johnnie To

Written by
  Ka-Fai Wai

  Simon Yam
  Anthony Wong Chau-Sang
  Johnny Hallyday
  Sylvie Testud
  Ka Tung Lam
  Maggie Siu

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