Saturday, April 14, 2007

The Mission

1999, Hong Kong, directed by Johnnie To

Johnnie To removes everything extraneous to focus almost exclusively on the loyalties -- often conflicting -- between a group of killers hired to protect a gang boss in the wake of an assassination attempt. Although the set-up is ostensibly simple, To makes the viewer join the dots rather than filling in the details in plodding fashion; there is minimal dialogue as the group of men is brought together, and later in the film To extracts some surprising moments of humour from their wordless interactions (most notably in a scene involving an improvised game of soccer).

As befits the stripped-down style, To shoots the action sequences as though he had to account for each bullet: the shoot-outs are the antithesis of John Woo, with each movement precisely choreographed, each weapon carefully aimed at its target, the actors moving with precise, economic gestures. The almost exaggeratedly disciplined style reaches its zenith with a brilliantly shot scene in a deserted mall, where the motley collection of men becomes a disciplined unit before our eyes. To is always conscious of exactly where each actor appears in his frame, and the compositions with multiple actors have a geometric precision; what's crucial, though, is that these theatrical constructions enhance rather than detract from the storyline, concerned as it is with the exact shades of loyalty that prevail at any given moment in time. To also uses several of his actors in atypical parts, particularly Anthony Wong, who is unusually reserved, barely cracking a smile until his final scene.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States