Director: Johnnie To
Stars: Anthony Wong, Francis Ng, Jackie Lui, Roy Cheung, Lam Suet, Simon Yam, Wong Tin Lam, Eddy Ko Hung, Sato Keiji, Ai Wai
A crime boss (Eddy Ko Hung) comes under fire from some Yakuza, so he has his right-hand man (Simon Yam) hire a group of bodyguards. The men fulfill their task, but then something occurs that tests their friendship and loyalty. Now this is pretty standard stuff for a Hong Kong crime movie; it's been done probably dozens of times (at least) after the success of heroic bloodshed movies during the mid-1980's. But like many of his other movies, Johnnie To takes a standard story and put just enough spin on it to make it fresh and interesting without becoming too over-indulgent.
As you might guess, the emphasis here is not on pyrotechnics, but rather relationships. This can become boring drivel (witness the recent US movie Traffic) or, when the ingredients are right, a true cinematic experience can be had. The "ingredients" in this case are the actors, and what a cast here. All of them give good performances, but the standouts are Francis Ng and Anthony Wong, who start out diametrically opposed, but come to form the closest bond in the group. Wong in particular is great, giving a quietly powerful performance that's so much better than a lot of his more recent film work (where he seems to be phoning in his lines to get a paycheck to cash).
Even though there is not a lot of action in The Mission, what is in there is done very well. One sequence, a shootout in a mall, has become one of my favorites. There are obvious nods to the work of John Woo (the old reflection gimmick), but it takes the opposite direction of most action sequences, with quiet, controlled camera shots rather than hyper-kinetic editing and slow motion. The sequence is a nice visual demonstration of how To continues to deconstruct the action genre.
If you enjoy Hong Kong crime movies and want to see a different take on the genre (or just some good performances from some of Hong Kong's best actors), give The Mission a try.
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This DVD is available for purchase at www.hkflix.com