2005, Hong Kong, directed by Johnnie To
Beautifully controlled and steering a wide berth around the standard tropes of Triad gunplay, Johnnie To’s film focuses on issues of loyalty and empire-building, and the constant tension between tradition and modernity in a world which pays lip service to the former while embracing the neon dollars of the latter. The narrative centres on a literal passing of the baton – an object that grants power to the Chairman of the Wo Sing organization for a two-year period – but also more symbolically on a progression from one generation to the next; the “Uncles” may be consulted but they are no longer in power, and they disappear from the screen as the new boss consolidates his power in increasingly brutal fashion. Where other Johnnie To films are filled with carefully staged gun violence, here he emphasizes hand-to-hand deaths that are both more personal and more violent, extending over several minutes and drained of any glamour. This is success at the price of humanity, with the multiple plotlines, so carefully interwoven earlier in the film, finally pared down to a revelatory tale of Shakespearean ambition and ruthlessness.