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by Jay Seaver

"Accidents this successful require excellent control."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2010 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Crime movies are filled with hitmen, to the extent that, if these numbers existed in the real world, it would be a shock if any potential murder victim lived more than a couple of days and nobody could make a career out of it; the economics just wouldn't work out. Or, perhaps, the setup in this nifty movie is more common than it would seem.

The assassin, Ho Kwok-fai (Louis Koo), is never under suspicion because his hits look like accidents. Even if his team's elaborate set-ups were to come under suspicion, he is insulated from the clients, and his own team only knows him as "Brain"; he never calls them anything but "Uncle" (Fung Shui-fan), "Fatty" (Lam Suet), and "Woman" (Michelle Ye). We see one plan go off without a hitch, and then a second one which must wait for conditions to be perfect. And while the target is eliminated, something goes wrong, and the team winds up down a member. It looks like an accident - but Brain knows better.

While Accident is built like a duel between killers with a knack for going undetected - Brain quickly comes to focus on insurance investigator Chan Fong-chow (Richie Ren) as his rival - it also offers up an excellent story of obsession and paranoia. Brain is so used to maintaining complete control over a situation that to not have such control is completely intolerable, especially since he still bears the psychic scars of one accident he did not cause. It's a man becoming more and more obsessed with controlling the world around him, even though that means jettisoning much of his humanity.

That means must of the movie must rest on Louis Koo's shoulders, and he is fortunately up to the challenge. Koo gives Brain an icy demeanor, although one with a temper underneath it. When away from his crew, there's another form of obsession to be found, so that as the pressure mounts, we can wonder whether he's losing his mind or whether it's been lost for a long time and just now showing. It's a really terrific performance, perhaps the best of the very busy actor's career.

He's ably supported by a crew that is enough fun to watch that we occasionally forget that they are murderers. Suet Lam, as always, is an enjoyable presence, and Michelle Ye brings a fiercely intelligent ruthlessness to her role. Fung Shui-fan does an unusually good take on Uncle, the old veteran of the group who is starting to noticeably succumb to age. It feels very genuine, as it must, because a great deal of the plot will ride on it. They work very well as a group, part of Brain's team but always somewhat separate from him; an early scene where they talk amongst themselves, a little afraid of their leader, is a standout.

Surprisingly, there aren't many big "accident" set pieces, although both of the main ones early in the film are very good, if entertainingly larger-than-life (at some points during the elaborate segments, one does wonder if someone as smart as Brain would really design plans with so many potential points of failure). Director Cheang Pou-soi does a nice job of keeping these scenes reasonably exciting, but does a much better job with the taut, paranoid sections that follow. The script is from frequent collaborators Szeto Kam-yuen and Tang Lik-kei, and winds up being very tight. The movie is a professionally produced as one expects from a Milkyway film; they've got crime down to a science by now.

"Accident" is just about what one expects from a Milkyway crime picture by now, and is a few ticks better than average by that scale: A good story, a bit of unexpected depth, and a fine job done in the telling.

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originally posted: 07/22/10 01:58:53
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Venice International Film Festival For more in the 2009 Venice International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2010 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Pou-Soi Cheang

Written by

  Louis Koo
  Richie Ren
  Suet Lam
  Michelle Ye
  Shui-Fan Fung

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