China/Hong Kong, 2009, 89 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Soi Cheng.
For many decades the Hong Kong industry has specialised not only in martial arts films, but in the various facets of the city's criminal life and activities. In recent years, Johnnie To has followed the lead of John Woo and has been one of the leaders for this kind of film. He has executive produced this one, one of the most effective.
The opening accident demands attention but the intricacies of the second accident are quite compelling, even more so when we discover that it was really murder, cunningly designed and executed as an accident.
This leads us to a team who contract these hits, a motley team, no less deadly for being eccentric: a fat man who loves his food and ping pong, an old man whose memory is failing, a ruthless young woman. But it is their leader, a younger man, quietly intense, who is the brains and controller of the outfit.
The main part of the film has its suspense as team work on a plan to kill an old man on behalf of his son so that the death looks like an accident. It depends on perfect co-ordination and on rain. Aborted several times, it finally works but with unforeseen consequences which sets the mastermind investigating the motives for the contract, creating surveillance on the insurance manager of the son who wanted his father dead.
In a variation on The Conversation, the leader builds up an elaborate case, seeing himself as the now target victim. An eclipse of the sun brings him to his senses. But...
Well-paced, intelligently plotted, giving time for audiences to absorb and understand the process, this is one of the best of the Hong Kong crime thrillers.
1.The title, the opening accident, the death of the triad leader? Planned accidents? The central plan and its execution? The finale, explanations and ironies?
2.The Hong Kong city landscapes, streets, traffic, ordinary detail? Sinister aspects? The flats, offices – realism? The darkness, the rain, the eclipse of the sun? Musical score?
3.The opening accident and the later explanation, the wife? The black spot mark, the prayers?
4.The second accident, the tyre, the man in a hurry, the water from the truck, the wipers, the banner, the glass, his death? The group watching? Dropping the cigarette? Later, playing ping-pong, bringing the cigarette butt, the truth?
5.The team leader, his motivation, sociopath, his relationship with the woman, Uncle, Fatty? Uncle and his failure? Fatty and his ruthlessness, collecting the money, eating, wanting to win at ping-pong, flying the kite? The woman, her role, ping-pong, serious, the kite? Uncle, smoking, giving it up, the balloons, his memory failing, taking the pills, his fall?
6.Fatty, controlling the man for his contract? Plan, the son wanting his father dead, the leader and the discussion about electricity, the various plans, difficulties, the kite, the wire, the rain, aborting the plan so many times? The bus, the bike, Fatty’s death? Uncle’s failure, the balls falling? The leader thinking that he was supposed to die? Taking the material and identification from Fatty?
7.The leader watching the son, following him, the binoculars, the interpretation of what he saw, the flat, the office? His own being burgled? His intrusion into the insurance man’s apartment, the bug, the continued surveillance?
8.The information, its effect, the owner of the apartment, his daughter, the flight attendant, the relationship with the son? The interlude on the stairs? The uncle and his fall? The death of the son, falling from the building? The leader and his growing paranoia? The death of the woman in the garage? Uncle’s fall and going to see him in hospital?
9.The new plan, dressed as a worker, the eclipse of the sun, the realisation of the truth? The flashbacks showing his misinterpretation of what was said and done? His attempt to stop the car with the glare? The death of the daughter? The insurance officer and his grief, trying to lift the car?
10.Fixing the flat, eliminating the map on the roof, cleaning? Encountering the man on the stairs – his being stabbed to death?
11.Themes of fate, control, consequences?