Year of release: 2003

Company: Milkyway

Genre: drama

Running time: 93 min.

Directors: Johnnie To, Wai Ka-Fai

Action director: Yuen Bun

Script: Wai Ka-Fai, Yau Nai Hoi, Au Kin Yee, Yip Tin Shing

Producers: Johnnie To, Wai Ka-Fai

Cinematography: Cheng Siu Keung

Editor: Law Wing-Cheong

Music: Cacine Wong

Stars: Andy Lau, Cecilia Cheung

Rated IIB for violence and brief nudity

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Running on Karma

Running on Karma

I must admit, at first Running on Karma -- which features Andy Lau in an oversized "muscle suit" -- seemed like just another gimmicky romantic comedy. But leave it up to Johnnie To to take something that could have been quite vapid and make it into an extraordinary, thought-provoking picture. In a year which has produced mostly run-of-the mill films, Running on Karma definitely stands out. Thankfully, it's because the movie is very good, instead of being an excercise in tedium like big-budget flops, such as Jackie Chan's disappointing The Medallion.

The plot has Andy Lau as a former monk (simply named Big or Biggie in the subtitles) who is now making his living at a stripper at an undergroud club. Cecilia Cheung plays a rookie cop called Yee who busts the club Big is working at. Big has the power to see a person's karma, and thus know when and how they are going to die. While being booked, Big sees a vision of Yee's death, and (due to lingering pain over the loss of his one true love) decides to help her crack a case involving a mysterious yoga master who is implicated in a murder. As the two draw closer together, Big realizes his own impact on Yee's karma, and tries to pull away from their relationship, until a tragic event once again brings them back to each other -- though in a way you might not expect.

Running on Karma

This is one of the few films that I really don't have much in the way of negative things to say about it. From beginning to end, Running on Karma kept me entertained. It is kind of a schizophrenic movie, but the good Hong Kong directors (such as Johnnie To and his partner Wai Ka-Fai) can pull this type of film out. Matters are helped immensely by the performances of the leads. Though Cecilia Cheung is really not a "great" actor, she does add in a lot of personality into what could have very well been just a generic "cute cop" role. And I must give Andy Lau his due. I was really not a fan of his until a few years ago, but now he seems to realize that he is one of HK film's "old veterans" and seems to be taking his work much more seriously now. Even though Big frankly looks a bit ridiculous at times due to the muscle suit, Andy (similar to what Andy Serkis did with Gollum in the Lord of the Rings trilogy) always manages to keep the humanity of the character intact, and that is what ultimately makes or breaks a film such as this.

Running on Karma is To's best work in years, and I will go so far as to say that it is without a doubt the best picture of the year, from both the US and Hong Kong. That might not be saying much considering 2003's dismal output -- which gave us heaping piles of dung like Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle and Lethal Cop, films which get my vote as the worst of the year from their respective countries. But Running on Karma is so good, it stacks up well against most every other movie, even those produced during Hong Kong's much-ballyhooed "golden age". Yes, Hong Kong cinema might very well never again reach the level of output and quality attained by the industry during those years, but Running on Karma proves that the area can still create great movies that would not be produced in any other part of the world, and it's a fine reminder to fans as to why we became enamored with them in the first place.

Running on Karma