Key-fung "Johnnie" To (China, 1955) debuted with
The Big Heat (1988),
produced by Tsui Hark,
The Eighth Happiness (1988).
All About Ah-Long (1989) basically began the Triad saga and was his first
Dong Fang San Xia/ The Heroic Trio (1993) and
Xian Dai Hao Xia Zhuan/ Executioners (1993) tell the story
of three women: a bounty hunter, an invisible woman, and a martial-arts cop.
Ji Gong/ The Mad Monk (1993) is a comedy set in Song Dynasty times.
The martial-arts epic The Bare-Footed Kid (1993) is a remake of
Chang Cheh's Disciples of Shaolin (1977).
Lifeline (1997) is a melodrama about heroic firefighters.
Zhen Xin Ying Xiong/ A Hero Never Dies (1998) tells the story of two
gangsters who are betrayed by their bosses, a similar setting as
John Woo's A Better Tomorrow (1986).
The Longest Nite (1998) was written by Ka-Fai Wai and co-directed by Patrick Yau.
Fai Seung Dat Yin/ Expect The Unexpected (1998) pokes fun at both the gangsters and the police.
The protagonist of
Running Out of Time (1999) and Running Out of Time 2 (2001) is
a gangster who is dying of cancer.
Joi Gin a Long/ Where a Good Man Goes (1999) is yet another triad
set in Macau in which a gangster just released from jail wants to find
the wife who betrayed him and stole the loot but instead falls in love
with a lonely woman.
Cheung Foh/ The Mission (1999), one of his most stylish gangster movies, is basically one long shootout with very little dialogue.
Someone is trying to assassinate the boss of a gang, Lung, who lives in
a huge mansion.
His brother Frank organizes a retinue of five body guards, including
the owner of a night club, Roy, and his man Shin (who normally finds
girls and rooms for VIPs), under the direction of the ruthless Curtis.
They torture in vain one of the men who is
suspected of being a traitor. One night someone shoots Lung in an alley,
fooling the body guards around him. Lung is saved by the bullet-proof vest,
but the sniper gets away. Roy is furious. Lung, instead, takes it
philosophically and doesn't blame anyone.
Someone tries to kill all of the bodyguards in a deserted shopping mall,
but they escape unarmed after the shootout.
Another attempt is foiled at the office building where the boss works.
The man they tortured is now a janitor. The boss hands him some money
on the way to the elevator. The janitor realizes that the men coming out
of the elevator are about to shoot him and screams. The janitor is shot
but the boss and his bodyguards can escape unarmed again.
They chase one of the shooters and lay siege to an abandoned warehouse.
After a long shootout, Lung's men prevailed over the men inside and capture
one of them. They finally find out who is trying to assassinate their boss
Lung: a family friend named Fat Cheung who worked with Lung's and Frank's
father in the old days but was marginalized and now simply runs a restaurant.
He is liquidated quickly and the five bodyguards drink to their eternal
friendship. However, when Curtis meets Frank to receive the financial reward,
Frank tells him that Shin has been having an affair with Lung's wife.
Curtis coldly decides to kill him, but Roy, learning of the problem, tells
Curtis that Shin, who has been his right arm man for a long time,
is under his protection. The team is now split.
Roy finds Shin, gives him his share of the reward and beats him up.
But Roy and the other two have decided to save his life. The problem is that,
by doing so, they risk their own life. They meet with Curtis at a restaurant
for a last dinner. Curtis confirms that he intends to kill Shin, who is sitting
next to him. Curtis' man James offers to talk to Lung and try to reverse
his order while the others continue their dinner. On his way to Lung's place
James witnesses two of Lung's men assassinate Lung's wife.
James runs back to the restaurant but time is up. Despite hearing that the
woman is dead, Curtis carries out his orders and kills Shin in front of the
others. Everybody points the gun at everybody else.
Roy shoots furious but not at Curtis, simply out of anger.
He has no choice but to let Curtis do his job.
They all leave but on the way out Curtis hands his man James a blank bullet:
he shot Shin knowing that James had loaded his gun with a blank.
When they are all gone, Shin walks out of the restaurant, drunk, but alive.
Needing You (2000),
codirected by Ka-Fai Wai,
is a romantic comedy that pairs a hard-working girl
cheated by her boyfriend with her womanizing boss.
Chuen jik sat sau/ Fulltime Killer (2001), a big-budget film,
Love on a Diet (2001),
Wu Yen (2001),
My Left Eye Sees Ghosts (2002) and
Lik goo lik goo san nin choi/ Fat Choi Spirit (2002)
were also codirected with Ka-Fai Wai, and rank among his worst.
PTU (2003) is aesthetically one of his best, the culmination of his
cinematographer's noir calligraphy, but the plot is razor thin and not
particularly well developed. Towards the end the photography steals the show
with dazzling movements and angles, while the story tries to converge into
an epic shootout whose rationale is not completely clear (its best and funniest
thing being a child who apparently rides around at night breaking into cars to steal coins
and who gets caught up in the mayhem).
The whole action takes place during one night.
Police officers on an armored truck comment on the death of a fellow cop,
killed by bank robbers. Ponytail and four of his thugs meet at a restaurant.
The owner is terrorized by them. A long-haired kid is forced to move to another
table when they take over his table. The kid silently moves and keeps eating.
Meanwhile, Lo, the sergeant who controls the neighborhood shows up at the same
restaurant. Outside he is confronted by a young man who obviously does not know
who he is. The young man is the grandson of the butcher, and the butcher
immediately comes to apologize to sergeant Lo. The sergeant walks into
the restaurant and orders (the owner of the restaurant is no less terrorized
by him than by the thugs). He sits at the same table as the thugs, who then
move to the table of the long-haired kid, who then moves to another table.
Ponytail's thugs leave the restaurant. When the sergeant leaves too (without
having exchanged a single word with Ponytail), he finds that one of them is
scratching his car's door. The sergeant starts running after the punk.
The butcher's grandson seizes the opportunity and dumps white paint on the
sergeant's expensive car. Inside the restaurant the long-haired kid receives
a phone call, then gets up, pulls out a steak knife and pushes the knife into
the back of Ponytail. Ponytail does not die: he musters enough strength to
run outside, flag down a taxi, then, when the taxi driver runs away scared,
drive the taxi himself towards the hospital. He finally dies crashing into
other cars. The sergeant is still chasing the punk through dark deserted
alleys. It is a trap: the others are waiting for him behind a corner.
Ironically, he trips and falls badly by himself. The thugs find him lying
unconscious on the pavement. They still beat him up, fearful of what to tell
Ponytail. When the police officers find the sergeant, he claims he simply
fell by himself. However, his gun is gone, and that's serious enough that
they should report it immediately. He begs them not to, because it would
jeopardize his coming promotion. The captain in charge, Mike Ho, accepts to do it
and tells his men that he himself will report it if the gun is not recovered
within a day.
The sergeant, nicknamed Fatty, takes off on his car and,
first thing, he buys a toy gun and paints it so it will look real.
He reaches the site where
Ponytail lies dead and steals his cell phone. Ho is calling it from the cell
phone of Ponytail's cousin. Fatty tells Ho that Ponytail is dead.
The icy female inspector Cheng can smell that something is wrong when Ponytail's
phone goes missing, even if Fatty quickly returns it.
Ho's men corner another punk and almost beat him to death until he reveals
where Ponytail's man hang out: the third floor of an abandoned building.
It is now middle of the night and nobody is in the streets except for the cops.
After Cheng sends
a trusted cop to "learn" from Ho, Ho's men become reluctant to follow him:
by not reporting the lost gun they are breaking the law and now there is
a spy among them to witness their actions.
Nonetheless Ho is adamant that he will continue to search for Lo's gun
until the morning, even risking his career. His men follow him.
Lo/Fatty is approached by an old fat man, nicknamed Uncle, who tells him
that Eye Ball is innocent of Ponytail's murder. Icy inspector Cheng is in
fact looking for Eye Ball (using interrogation methods no less brutal
Ho and his men enter the abandoned warehouse (a lengthy pointless scene).
iThey find two half-naked girls kept captive by a woman. Ho simply asks
for the gang's whereabouts and ignores the crying girls.
Cheng has Ponytail's phone and she realizes that someone keeps calling that
number looking for Lo/Fatty: that someone is Ho. Viceversa Lo/Fatty
keeps getting phone calls for Ponytail.
Deserted streets. Cops walking and/or driving around.
Fatty meets Ponytail's father, who is very angry at the thugs who were
supposed to protect his son (the ones whom Ho is looking for):
he has trapped them naked into tiny cages. Ponytail's father Bald Head believes that
Eye Ball killed his son, so he wants Eye Ball's head in exchange for
Fatty's gun. Fatty leaves and the old man resumes
torturing the men who were supposed to protect his son.
Cheng's men figure out what is wrong with Ponytail's cell phone: it is
actually Fatty's phone! Which also explains why Fatty keeps getting phone
calls for Ponytail: he accidentally switched the two phones.
Fatty calls Eye Ball and tells him that everything will be all right.
Then he meets with Ho at the restaurant and asks him to keep the cops out
of Canton St at 4am. Cheng has seen his car downstairs (being painted white
it is easy to recognize) and walks to their table explaining the mixup with
the cell phones. Fatty grabs his cell phone and runs out the back door.
He then calls Bald Head from a public phone and asks him to take him to
Eye Ball at 4am. The next person to use the same public phone is a young
man who seems desperate to get in touch with someone.
Cheng's undercover agent calls her saying that he has
important information about Eye Ball and Bald Head.
When Bald Head leaves for the appointment, he is followed by Cheng's car.
Fatty and the young man are still near the same phone booth. This time
the young man gets through and a man tells him that they are about to
pick him up. Fatty is waiting for Bald Head. A child, who has been riding
around on his bicycle, breaks the windows
of a car to steal coins. Some of Ho's cops, who were investigating the
mysterious break-ins, are watching but don't intervene.
Eye Ball arrives... and he realizes that Fatty has set him up because a few
seconds later Ponytail's father Bald Head arrives too.
Cheng drives by in front of Fatty, who is still at the telephone booth.
Ho's men, disobeying Fatty, come running down the street.
A taxi stops by to drop off three friends of the young man
who was using the same phone booth... but they quickly pull out guns (are they
the bank robbers mentioned in the first sequence of the film?)
Shooting erupts: Bald Head
wants to kill Eye Ball (and they kill each other right away), everybody else
shoots for non-obvious reasons (and without trying to avoid bullets).
Fatty is the only one who doesn't have a real gun and crawls away, chased by
the young man of the phone booth. Fatty trips on something and, lo and behold,
finds his own lost phone; and shoots the young man just in time.
Lots of dead people in the street. Cheng behaved like a coward, hiding
inside her car, and apologizes to Fatty: she fires a few shots so it will
look like she participated in the shootout.
The child rides away with the coins he stole from the cars he broke into.
Xiang Zuo Zou Xiang You Zou/ Turn Left Turn Right (2003) is the adaptation of Jimmy Liao's graphic novel A Chance of Sunshine (1999).
Running On Karma (2003) is not a great film because the plot is implausible, the acting is approximate, and there are amateurish scenes, but it is an
intriguing philosophical meditation about justice, revenge and the meaning of life.
The film opens with a supersized male stripper dancing on a stage nd sending his female fans delirious.
A cop is called for a murder: a man whose face has been horribly
disfigured. Inside a box they find a bearded Indian
contortionist. One of the women who was crazier
about the male stripper pulls out her badge: she is a cop and he is under
arrest. The contortionist is arrested and chained in the car. One of the cops
starts beating him up. Meanwhile, the male stripper runs away naked.
The contortionist manages to kill the cop who is beating him and to escape and, chased by three armed cops and a dog, runs into the same alley where
the naked stripper is running from the other direction, chased by the female
cop. The two men briefly collide and the stripper has visions of extreme
violence and, lying on the ground, mumbles that he used to be a monk.
The contortionist disappears while the stripper is arrested and taken into
custody. The captain tortures the naked man but the female cop comes to rescue
him: he is only guilty of indecent exposure. She bandages him and then
interrogates him about his past: he used to be a martial monk in a temple.
She has him deported back to China. He has visions of violence.
Her boss tells her that she is being
drafted by the captain for the investigation of the contortionist.
Alone in the apartment where the murder was committed she meets the male
stripper again, who came back to warn her of impending violence that only
she can avert. The stripper can see what happened: the contortionist attacked
the victim, they fought, the victim begged in vain, the contortionist kept
beating his face, clearly full of hatred. He takes her to the morgue with
an impossible jump from the roof of a building into a window of the morgue.
By simply staring at the cadaver, the male stripper can see a scene in which
the victim stabs a man in the back. He interprets the vision for her: there's
a woman who is the clue to finding the Indian.
In fact, the Indian man has reached the apartment of a woman, exhausted
The female cop, Fung-yee, has to join the captain who has found his own clue.
The male stripper comically tries to follow the police cars riding a motorcycle.
The cops find the same woman and the captain guesses that the Indian is hiding
inside a shopping bag. The captain beats the shopping bag until blood starts
leaking out but then makes the mistake of staring inside: the Indian grabs his
head and bites his cheek. The Indian's woman tells Fung-yee that she has known
the Indian only for one day but felt like she had to help him. The Indian
captures Fung-yee and is about to kill her but she is saved by the male stripper
who also kills the Indian. The male stripper, who is known only as Big,
is sent back to jail because he is an illegal immigrant and is deported again.
Fung-yee travels to the temple of martial monks and learns that Big was
devastated when a girl was murdered. He gave up being a monk and started
having visions of other people's karma.
Big returns illegally to Hong Kong and saves Fung-yee again, this time while
she is falling from a skyscraper, and helps her arrest the acrobatic thief
she was chasing. He then tells her that in the previous life she was a Japanese
soldier who committed atrocities (his recurring vision whenever he stares at
her) and that in this life she has to pay for those sins.
He already saved her twice but won't be able to save her always.
He decides to enter a bodybuilding contest and is shocked to see a completely
transformed Fung-yee, dressed like a silly girl and hanging out with punks:
she tells him she quit her job and wants to enjoy life. He is reassured when
she confesses that it is a lie: the punks are cops, trying to catch some drug
dealers. Fung-yee is now convinced of Big's visions: she is going to die young
as punishment for her sins in her previous life. She then decides to die for
something useful: armed with a camcorder, she ventures into the mountain near the temple to catch the bandit who killed Big's friend. After one week the police
find her camcorder that has recorded what appears to be her last moments:
she found the bandit but he surprised her and beheaded her. Big searches the
mountain until he finds the place where her torso is buried, and then he finds
the head hanging from a tree.
Then again, like years earlier, full of rage, he chases the bandit who is
hiding in the mountain.
When he finds him, though, he realizes that the beast in front of him is...
himself. The beastly man of the cave is him as he quit being a monk and
roamed the mountains: he did find the killer and killed him. But he (the beastly
Big) also saw karma: the friend that was killed by the bandit deserved to die, just like Fung-yee deserved to die for her sins in her previous life.
the scene takes place in a cave surrounded by giant Buddha statues.
Big's hatred prompts him to attack his beastly doppelganger. Big prevails
and is ready to behead the beast but then he stops in front of a giant Buddha.
We see Fung-yee's last moments: how she met the beastly Big, thinking he was
the bandit, and how she was beheaded by the beastly Big.
Big starts walking alone on the mountain. Ten years later he has become his
beastly self, and he does meet the killer. But this time he hugs him instead
of taking revenge. They walk back to the village and he becomes a monk again.
Yesterday Once More (2004)
The psychological noir and martial-arts film Throw Down (2004) is a minor
tribute to Kurosawa.
Breaking News (2004) is mediocre triad routine.
Yesterday Once More (2004) is a romantic comedy about the partnership
of two skilled thieves.
The overrated Hak Sewui/ Election (2005)
accounts to little more than a diligent Chinese version of the Godfather.
There are lengthy detours that don't serve any purpose, such as
the night chase scene
and the ritual of brotherhood.
The gruesome ending feels like a desperate attempt at making the film a
little less predictable than it is.
There are two main criminal organizations in Hong Kong: the Sun Society, where power is
transferred dynastically from father to son, and the Triad, where the new
chairman is elected democratically every two years, a tradition that goes back centuries.
The elders of the Triad are discussing whom to elect next, and the choice is
between the ambitious Big D and the surgical and younger Lok.
The elders react negatively to Big D's attempt to buy the election and instead
elect Lok, who is congratulated by the main power broker, Uncle Teng.
Big D rebels: his men kidnap two of the "uncles", put them into cages
and roll the cages down a steep hill. He demands from outgoing chairman Whistle
the baton that symbolizes the leadership of the Triad, the baton that is
supposed to go to Lok. Whistle is scared of Big D, clearly a psychopath,
and keeps saying that the baton is past the border, in China, unreachable.
Meanwhile the police, sensing trouble, decides to arrest all the bosses,
starting with Uncle Teng, and then Lok. The police arrive just in time to
save Whistle from being killed by Big D. Even handcuffed, Big D still tries
to launch on Whistle, who, terrified, runs away and gets hit by a car.
While in prison each of the two bosses directs associates to hunt for the baton.
Both camps know that the baton is kept by Whistle's driver Four-Eye in China.
Big D's camp charges the young and icy Kun of killing Four-Eye.
The action moves to China.
Lok's camp finds where Four-Eye is being tortured, frees him and asks in vain
for the baton: Four-Eye is loyal only to Whistle and will release the baton
only if Whistle orders him, but Whistle is dying after the accident.
Lok's men, however, find the baton just when the police is storming the building.
One of them, Big Head, takes off with the baton while the other stays to
confront the police captain, an old friend who used to be a gangster himself.
Meanwhile, in the prison, Teng is summoned by the police chief, who tells him
flatly that he will not tolerate a civil war inside the Triad. Teng offers
to mediate between Big D and Lok in order to keep the peace that is
convenient for both the Triad and the police. Big D, however, refuses any
compromise and, instead, threatens to start his own society, something that
Teng would not tolerate. The police chief tells Teng that, in case of war,
he would arrest everybody. Teng calmly explains that the various societies
have 350,000 members: they wouldn't in all the prisons of the city.
Big Head is driving back to Hong Kong with the baton but is ambushed by Kun
and tries in vain to run away through a field of tall grass.
Kun proceeds to torture Big Head who refuses to surrender the baton.
Meanwhile the bosses of the Triad are agreeing to fight Big D, regardless of
previous allegiances, in the name of unity. Hence one calls Kun to tell him
that his new mission is to rescue the baton for Lok, and one calls
Big Head to tell him that Kun is his new boss. In a comic scene Kun stops
beating Big Head, and a bleeding Big Head gladly surrenders the baton to him.
In the middle of the night Kun, who is on his way to Hong Kong, realizes
that he is beeing followed by a car. Both Kun and the chaser cross the border
illegally, killing a border guard.
The bosses send a motorcycle to stop the chaser. Kun hands over the
baton to the motorcyclist. The motorcyclist is in turn attacked by thugs who
want the baton. He is helped by another young man, the cryptic and soft-spoken
Jimmy, who finally retrieves the baton after a bloody confrontation, and
reluctantly hands it over to Lok.
Whistle has recovered enough to asks for a deal with the police.
Big D orders to kill Whistle.
This all happens in jail, with the police tolerating all the negotiations
between the two camps.
But nobody needs to kill Whistle: he commits suicide at the hospital when he
learns that his son has been run over by a truck, presumably an assassination
planned by the Triad.
(Confusingly, Lok takes credit for killing Whistle in a conversation with Jimmy.)
The police release Big D. Lok and his men are outside waiting for him.
Lok offers him a truce.
Big D accepts, and they become good buddies.
When a traitor offers Big D an alliance to kill Lok, Big D alerts Lok and
together they defeat the traitor. The pair now rules over Hong Kong.
They go fishing together. Big D brings his wife and Lok brings his son.
Big D asks for Lok's support in getting elected chairman.
Suddenly, Lok grabs a big rock and kills Big D. Lok keeps dropping the heavy
rock on Big D's head even after the man is already dead.
Big D's wife and Lok's teenage son witness the brutal murder.
Lok chases Big D's wife through the woods and strangles her to death.
The boy runs to the car and can hear the woman scream.
Lok buries both bodies and then drives away with his son.
Elsewhere, Jimmy is being groomed to become chairman some day...
Triad Election (2006), the follow-up to Election, is probably
a better film, focusing on the most complex character, Jimmy.
Fong Juk/ Exiled (2006) is basically a Western movie, in fact
a diligent tribute to Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch, and one of his best films altogether.
It is a poem to doomed loyalty.
It is also a comedy, with humorous skits that cleverly add to the sense of impending tragedy.
And the final message is no less ironic and satirical, as well as cynical:
the only survivor
and winner out of the manly mayhem is the prostitute; and the only other
survivors are another woman (the widow) and two police officers, a corrupt one
and a coward one. The winners are not the four gunmen who believe in
eternal loyalty but selfish ordinary people.
It is also a self-tribute of sorts because the four gunmen are played by the same actors as To's The Mission and in similar roles. This film also returns to the theme of gangsters who find meaning in deadly loyalty like in Zhen Xin Ying Xiong/ A Hero Never Dies (1998).
The action is set in the year before Hong Kong was returned by Britain to China.
In Macau, the other old Western outpost, two gunmen are charged by their
boss Fay to kill Wo, a retired gangster that now has a humble job and simply
wants to have a family life with his wife and their little baby in a humble
apartment. Blaze and Fat are confronted by their old friends Tai and Cat,
who are opposed to killing their common friend Wo.
A cowardly middle-aged cop, who is about to retire in three days, gets caught
in the firestorm and calls Fay to beg for his life.
But not much happens: the four gangsters shoot a lot but try to miss and in
the end they make peace and eat dinner together.
In fact, the four gunmen later help Wo improve the apartment and treat his
wife and baby as their own family.
Fay, however, is not happy that they didn't kill Wo.
The five visit Jeff, the owner of a brothel that features a stunning prostitute,
and Jeff tells them of two potential deals. The first one is to kill Fay's
rival Keung at a dinner. The other one is to steal a gold shipment.
At the dinner, however, Fay shows up just when the five have taken position
around Keung's table. Fay confronts Blaze who failed to kill Wo. Fay shoots him
in the chest but Blaze is saved by his bulletproof vest. Wo shoots Fay, wounding
him in the groin, and this starts a massive shootout between Fay's men,
Keung's men and the five gunmen. Wo is wounded. Fay and Keung strike a temporary
peace and join forces in chasing the give gunmen.
The five friends are still driving Wo's humble van that breaks down. They have to steal a car.
Wo wants to go home but his
friends take him to an illegal doctor. The doctor is in bed with the sexy
prostitute but the four friends pay all their money for him to take care of Wo's
wound. The prostitute sees where the doctor stores the money. The operation
is interrupted by Fay's men who barge in and demand that the doctor takes care
of their boss. Soon they recognize each other and another massive shootout
erupts. The four friends escape without Wo, while the prostitute takes advantage
of the chaos and steals the doctor's money. Fay takes hold of the wounded
Wo and throws him out of the window and then starts shooting at the dying Wo
to lure the four friends in the open. They eventually manage to rescue Wo
but he demands to die at home. They drive him home where his wife is furious
with them. When Wo dies, she grabs a gun and starts shooting at his friends
(who risked their lives to try and save him). Wo's wife is desperate and
briefly considers killing herself and the baby before setting fire to the
apartment. The wife sets out to hunt them down and take her revenge, presumably
considering them responsible for Wo's death.
The car stolen by the four gunmen breaks down and they try in vain to
jumpstart it. Eventually they start walking, except that they are in
the middle of nowhere and it is very hot.
To decide which direction to follow, they flip a coin.
They rejoice when they finally hit a creek and can drink.
By accident, they realize that they ended up very near the place where
the convoy carrying the gold is about to transit. Again, they flip a coin
to decide whether to attack the convoy or not: the coin says "no" and they
content themselves with watching the convoy drive by. Suddenly gunfire erups:
another much bigger gang is attacking the police officers. The gang kills
the entire escort except one heroic cop who is a superhuman shooter.
The four friends are watching unseen and truly root for the lonely cop,
even reflecting light to the sniper hiding on the tree so that the cop
can spot him. When the cop is left without munitions, the four friends
come out in the open and kill all the remaining gangsters. The cop turns to
them with his pathetic pistol and seems ready to die than to surrender.
He explains to them that, if suspected of stealing the gold, he would be
killed anyway. Blaze offers him a deal: split the gold with them.
They transport the gold bullions to a port and load a yacht.
Meanwhile, Wo's widow has been searching for them all over town and eventually
ran into the usual prostitute who sent her to Fay.
Just then Blaze gets a call from Fay: he has kidnapped Wo's widow and
the baby and threatens to kill them. This time flipping the coin is pointless:
Blaze decides to save Wo's family and the other three are with him.
They tell the cop that they will be back by sunrise.
The four friends enter the brothel where Fay is waiting for them. They know
it is a trap and decide to take one last picture together in a fast photo
booth. Wo's wife still believes that Blaze is responsible for Wo's death
and shoots him in the chest. Again, the bulletproof vest saves him, and then
Wo's wife cannot find the strength to shoot him in the head.
Tai offers Fay the gold in return for their release (and shows him a bag full
of bullions) and the release of Wo's
family. Fay accepts except that he still wants to kill Blaze for disobeying him.
Blaze would agree but his friends decide to stay after telling Wo's widow
to drive to the port and take off with the cop (and the gold).
The four friends start shooting at Fay's men and they all get killed, but also
kill Fay. In fact, the only survivor is the usual prostitute, who grabs the
bag of gold and leaves the brothel.
The psychological thriller
Mad Detective (2007), co-directed with Wai Ka-Fai, is both a long
hallucination and a mathematical puzzle. The hallucination is due to the man
who can see other people's personalities. The puzzle is due to some guns that
get switched and that future generations will use to reconstruct the final
scene: the lone survivor needs to arrange the guns in a way that will tell
his version of the facts, not the truth that would get him fired.
Visually this is also one of To's most experimental films, especially during
the scenes in the maze of mirror where everything is multiplied, distorted
and fragmented, reflecting the mental illness of the two enemies.
One is endowed with supernatural powers but those supernatural powers also
fool himself about his wife's presence. The other one is a Hitchcock-ian
or Brian DePalma-esque case of psychiatric disorder.
Bun is the "mad detective", a detective who can solve unsolvable cases because
he has visions of what happened. One day he cuts his ear to give it as a gift
to his boss. He gets fired from the police.
One day two police officers are waiting patiently in a car. One of the two,
Wong, realizes that the other one is responsible for small thefts carried out
at the station. Just then they spot the Indian thief they were waiting for.
They chase him and there's a moment when a cop and the thief face each other
but don't shoot.
Eighteen months later Ho is the cop investigating the mysterious disappearance
of Wong, who never returned from that night. The other one, Chi-wai, claims
that Wong was killed by the Indian thief. Meanwhile someone has been committing
robberies and murders using Wong's gun.
Ho visits Bun and asks him for help. Bun's wife makes a scene because she thinks
that he will get killed on this case, and since he has been fired he has no
reason to get involved. Bu slaps her and leaves with Ho.
Bun can see a person's multiple personalities. He follows Chi-wai in the
street and see him split into seven people, including a woman who is the brain
and a fat old man who is the wisdom. Then he spies him at a restaurant where
we hear the woman speak to the fat old man and Chi repeat the same words.
Bun follows Chi-wai to the men's rooms and pees on his pants: first he is
peeing on the pants of the fat old man, who doesn't react, and then the fat
old man mutates into the woman, who attacks him and smashes his forehead into
a mirror. Chi-wai pulls out the gun and is about to kill Bun, but the seven
personalities grab him and pull him back, as ordered by the woman personality.
And then Ho enters the men's rooms and points his gun at Chi-wai: Chi-wai
puts his gun back into his pants and says that he's tired of this endless
Ho, who can only see Chi-wai and not the seven personalities, is incredulous.
Bun tells him that he, Ho, has only one personality, that of a young shy boy.
Bun, who now wears a bandage around his head, knows exactly what happened
and drives frantically to the sites of the two robberies: he enters the
places brandishing a non-existing gun (his hand) and pretending to shoot
people, and we see the flashbacks of what happened (the robberies happened
exactly like he is guessing except that the robber and murderer was masked).
Bun and Ho have dinner at a restaurant.
Ho invites his girlfriend Gigi and Bun calls his wife to join them... except that he doesn't have a cell
phone and is only simulating the phone call with his hand...
and except that she never comes: nobody sits in the chair with them, but he
talks to her and orders food for her. The
restaurant owner tells Ho that this has been going on for a while: Bun shows
up alone but pretending that his wife is with him. He is clearly crazy.
Now we realize that Bun's wife was not in the apartment when Ho visited him
and Bun's imagination constructed the altercation.
Ho still has faith in Bun's superhuman skills for solving cases so he takes
Bun in the woods when Wong disappeared. Bun tells Ho that the way to find the
corpse is to bury yourself in a grave, so they dig a grave and then Ho lies
in it. It is a trick: Bun steals Ho's gun and badge and, after meeting the
vision of Chi-wai searching for his gun, starts his own investigation.
When Ho gets out of his grave and realizes that Bun has
stolen his gun, he heads for Bun's apartment and breaks in.
He is arrested by Bun's his ex-wife,
who really exists and is a policewoman, and
who is in the apartment waiting for Bun,
but Ho explains that he is a police officer.
She left Bun when he went crazy.
She is there because has been informed that Bun has not seen the psychiatrist
in a while and that he is not taking his medications.
Meanwhile Bun, pretending
to be Ho, searches Chi-wai's office and cabinets. He finds files on the Indian
thief, money and other objects that seem to confirm his theory. Then Bun buries
himself in the forest and sees what happened 18 months earlier.
Chi-wai (in his fat old man personality) lost his gun,
the Indian thief stole it, Chi-wai killed Wong and stole
his gun. When he faced the Indian thief, Chi-wai didn't kill him because he
was using Wong's gun. In his mind (in his cynical woman's personality) Chi-wai
figured that he had to make it believe that the Indian killed Wong, in which
case Wong could not have killed the Indian.
Now Chi-wai's woman personality calls the police and informs them of the
Indian's whereabouts after staging the scene: when Ho arrives in the apartment,
he finds the masks used by the murders in the robberies and other items
incriminating the Indian. Ho also finds Wong's badge on the floor.
His own gun has been stolen by Bun so he borrows a gun from a female friend,
Gigi. Bun warns Ho that Chi-wai will kill the Indian. But Ho has trouble
believing Bun anymore because Bun's hallucinations are getting worse:
Ho is scared of Bun, especially since Bun has stolen his gun.
At one point Bun's ex-wife walks into the car and Bun sees the fake wife sitting in the back while the real one is sitting in the front. Nonetheless his ex-wife
(the real one) asks him for help to solve an unsolved case. She knows that Bun
follows all cases simply by reading about them in newspapers that are pasted
all over the house. Bun immediately tells her that the nephew did it.
Ho too trusts Bun's theory. Ho walks into Chi-wai's office as himself: the
people there have seen Bun as Ho, so there is a bit of confusion. Ho
arrests Chi-wai based on Bun's theory that Chi-wai is using Wong's gun:
what Bun doesn't know is that Chi-wai changed his gun's serial number in the computer, so the computer now shows that Wong's gun is Chi-wai's gun.
Ho is confused: Bun's theory has collapsed.
Chi-wai invites Ho to accompany him to arrest the Indian. Bun desperately
tries to warn Ho that Chi-wai intends to kill both the Indian and Ho himself.
Ho still follows Chi-wai and helps him arrest the Indian. Bun follows them
and sees eight people: the seven personalities of Chi-wai and the young boy
of Ho's personality. They move in a maze of mirrors, that further amplifies
the effect of multiple personalities. Bun arrives in time to stop the killings:
Bun points his gun at Chi-wai who points his gun to the Indian, and Ho points
his gun at Bun to stop him from killing Chi-wai. For a few seconds they are
Bun is holding Ho's gun, Ho is holding Gigi's gun, the Indian is holding
Chi-wai's gun, and Chi-wai is holding Wong's gun.
Then Chi-wai shoots the Indian and Ho shoots Bun to protect
Chi-wai. Chi-wai pretends to arrest the Indian but instead finishes him off,
then he turns and shoots Ho, just like Bun had anticipated.
The shootout breaks the mirrors.
Bun is still alive and walks straight towards Chi-wai. A voice inside him
tells him that, if he kills Chi-wai, Bun will become just one of these
heartless murders, but another voice concludes that Bun is human like all
the others, so he pulls the trigger and kills Chi-wai.
Then he dies.
Now Ho, the lone survivor, has to rearrange the guns so that the investigation will confirm whichever story he decides to concoct.
Man Jeuk/ Sparrow (2008) was an odd tribute to Jacques Demy's The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.
written by Wai Ka-Fai, is about
a French chef who becomes a ferocious killer.
Life Without Principle (2011) is another crime drama but this time
set within the greedy financial world.
Don't Go Breaking My Heart (2011) and
Don't Go Breaking My Heart 2 (2014)
are romantic comedies codirected with Wai.
Romancing in Thin Air (2012) is a romantic drama.
Du Zhan/ Drug War (2012), written by Ryker Chan, Ka-Fai Wai, Nai-Hoi
Yau and Xi Yu, may appear to be yet another brutal action movies, but it is also
a metaphysical parable of evil.
Just like To's models for this film, namely
Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch and
Jean-Pierre Melville's Un Flic, harbor a deeper meaning than the
relatively simplistic plot, so Drug War has a subplot of an extremely
clever satan who is willing to sacrifice and betray everybody, from his wife
to his loyal servants, a mind who can continuously process logical steps
to maximizes his own chances of surviving.
At the beginning we feel that the police captain is the protagonist. He is the
character that gets developed more fully, and who gets the heroic treatment;
but then the real protagonist emerges and it is the ultimate anti-hero, a coward
who cares absolutely zero about the rest of the world.
A side-story has to do with the way that technology helps watch undercover
operations as if they were television shows:
we see most of the first part twice, because many of the scenes are broadcast to
surveillance systems and shown in black and white inside the small screens of
A man, Timmy Choi, is driving erratically on a wide road and eventually loses
control and crashes into a restaurant while throwing up white foam.
Meanwhile two men, who look like they are high on drugs,
are driving a green truck through a highway toll, followed by a red car.
Meanwhile, a bus arrives at the same highway toll. One of the man inside senses
that something is wrong. He is right: his partner is an undercover police
captain, Zhang Lei, the girl at the tool booth is his trusted and attractive
young assistant Xiaobei, and the whole area is surrounded by police officers that arrest
all the passengers of the bus. They are all carrying drugs inside their body.
They are taken to a hospital where they are forced to defecate the packets of
Timmy ends up, unconscious, in the same hospital and Zhang easily recognizes that he is another drug dealer.
Zhang inspects Timmy's car and finds the cell phone that was ringing when he
crashed. Zhang calls the number that was calling Timmy: it rings inside the
green truck, that is still being followed by a red car.
Timmy escapes at the hospital but Zhang catches him hiding in the morgue.
Zhang sends his own men to replace
the cops in the red car that have been following the green truck from very
Zhang finds three dead bodies in a warehouse turned into a laboratory for
making drugs: the factory had exploded and only Timmy had survived.
They are Timmy's wife and her two brothers.
Zhang interrogates Timmy, who admits that the green truck is carrying raw
material for him. He has to make drugs for a kingpin, Bill Lee, whom Zhang
has been wanting to arrest for a long time.
Timmy knows that he will get the death penalty unless he collaborates: he
offers to help Zhang frame Bill Lee. First Timmy takes Zhang to an appointment
with a comical character nicknamed "Ha Ha" because he is always laughing loud.
Ha Ha wants to meet Bill Lee and Zhang pretends to be working for the boss.
Everything that Ha Ha says, during a lavish dinner, about their business is broadcasted
live to the police station by Zhang's cigarette holder that contains a camera.
The high-tech crew at the police station is directed by Zhang's assistant Xiaobei.
Next, Timmy organizes the meeting with
Bill Lee's trusted nephew, who is permanently under the influence of heavy drugs.
Zhang plays Ha Ha and his assistant Xiaobei plays his wife
while their police team watches the meeting remotely broadcasted by a tiny
camera. Bill's trusted nephew submits Zhang to an orgy of heavy drugs to test his credibility.
Zhang has no choice but to accept. After Bill's trusted nephew leaves, convinced that he can do
business with the man he believes to be Ha Ha, Zhang is seized by epileptic
fits. Timmy shouts that they have to make him vomit and tells the cops what
to do to save Zhang's life. It works. So far Timmy has fully cooperated and
never tried to escape. In the middle of the night the
green truck crashes in a remote location. The cops that were following the truck
call Zhang. The two dudes of the truck are acting more funny than ever,
obviously stoned senseless.
Zhang, Timmy and Zhang's cute assistant Xiaobei take the bullet train and then meet
local police. They get to the place where the truck is.
Timmy cooperates behaving realistically with his two men. At one point he has
one of their guns in his hands but throws it away instead of trying to escape.
Timmy drives the truck full of raw material to his other factory. He is welcomed
by his workers: a group of loyal deaf-mutes who are happy to see him as if he
was a family member. It turns out that Timmy is fluent in sign language.
As instructed by Zhang, Timmy places cameras and microphones around the
building. During dinner with the deaf-mutes, Timmy cries and says (or, better,
gestures) that he is crying because his wife died (but maybe he is crying
because he is betraying such loyal buddies).
The deaf-mute decided to pay tribute to the dead wife by burning a huge amount
of money in front of Timmy.
Zhang is ready to order the attack: cops storm the yacht where the real Ha Ha
is delivering drugs to Timmy; and other corps storm Timmy's factory, despite
the ferocious resistance of the deaf-mutes,
who manage to escape and to blow up the building killing many of Zhang's
cops. Zhang is furious at Timmy for not having told them about the secret
passage (did Timmy try to save his loyal deaf-mutes?) Zhang is about to
ship him back to headquarters when Timmy begs him to continue the operation.
Timmy reveals that Bill Lee is just a front for the real kingpins.
Impersonating Ha Ha, Zhang meets Bill Lee in person. It turns out that Bill Lee
is simply taking orders on a earpiece from the seven real bosses who are walking
around the port and checking everything that is going on.
The seven bosses don't want to reveal their faces but Zhang/Ha Ha manages a
trick to make them come out. Later the bosses decide to execute Bill and his
nephew, who failed to protect their identities. Now Zhang and his high-tech
crew can target the real bosses directly.
The green truck is still driving around, loaded with precious merchandise,
The two deaf-mutes on the loose comunicate only via a code transmitted by cell
phone, but now they don't trust the messages they receive.
Timmy, who has been instructed to lead the bosses in the trap, suddenly
switches sides, removing the microphones from his clothes
and telling the bosses that they are surrounded by cops.
The cops grab the guns and a chaotic shootout erupts in front of a school.
Timmy hides inside a school bus. He sees Xiaobei lying on the road wounded after
being run over by a car, and drives by to finish her with a bullet.
Police and mobsters reach an impasse.
Timmy drives the school bus where the mobsters are and opens the door.
The elderly bosses run towards the bus. Timmy shuts the door and drives away,
leaving them an easy target for the cops. Having helped the police capture the
bosses, he flees. By accident he crashes into the car driven by the deafmutes.
Knowing that he betrayed them, they pull out the guns.
Zhang, chasing the school bus, gets there to witness the
shootout between Timmy and the deafmutes.
Timmy is caught between the deafmutes, who are determined to kill him, and
the cops, who are waiting to see who wins. Timmy raises his hands and surrenders
to the cops. Zhang aims at him and would probably want to execute him right
there but he can't. Zhang handcuffs Timmy to the car and then helps the other
cops corner the deafmutes. The deafmutes, however, put up an heroic struggle
and manage to wound or kill all the cops, although they get fatally wounded too.
Meanwhile, Timmy manages to free himself. He walks coldly towards the bodies
lying on the asphalt, grabs a gun and finishes them one by one. Before he can
escape, however, Zhang, with his last breath, handcuffs Timmy's ankle to his own
arm. Timmy tries in vain to free himself from Zhang's dying body. Timmy has
to drag the dead body on the asphalt while trying to escape. Lots of cops
arrive at the scene and arrest him.
Timmy is the only survivor of the whole story, but at the trial he is found
guilty by the judge and promptly executed. While they strap him to the apparatus
that will kill him, Timmy begs for another chance to cooperate, but the only
person listening to his new confession is the guard who witnesses his death.
(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx) |
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