Hong Kong, 1999
director: Johnnie To
screenplay: Yau Nai-hoi
cinematography: Cheng Siu-keung
editor: Andy Chan Chi-wai
design: Jerome Fung
music: Chung Chi-wing
producers: Johnnie To, Chiu Fu-sheng
production co.: Milkyway Image
Anthony Wong ... Curtis (Ah Gwai)
Francis Ng Chun-yu ... Roy (Lai)
Jackie Lui Chung-yin ... Shin
Roy Cheung Yiu-yeung ... Mike
Lam Suet ... James (Fei)
Simon Yam Tat-wah ... Frank (Nam)
Reviewed by Shelly Kraicer at the Toronto International Film Festival 1999.
When Boss Hung's life is threatened, he hires five retired bodyguards as protection. Their deadpan cool and chic black suits characterize one of the most interesting revisionist takes on the male bonding film yet filmed. The Mission seems to have aimed for and found an international audience in a very self-conscious way. A case for brilliantly realized self-fetishization, perhaps? This is manifested in its concentrated, craft-based stylistic perfectionism, and its clearly readable references (or homages, if one is attributing intent to the filmmaker) to recent "hot" filmmaking styles. For those who expect more of a film than a pure exercise in style, The Mission might seem thin, empty, a formalist exercise. Although it is heartening to see a Milkyway Image film with an international profile (it has certainly caught the eyes of many international film festival programmers), the film doesn't concern itself with servicing an audience's desire for pleasure, as do Running Out of Time and Johnnie To's huge domestic hit Needing You. Those had style plus heart, a richness that extends beyond the power of the images right into the films' stories. The Mission beguiles with its bravura stylistic set-pieces. But open it up, and what's inside? A gangsters and gunplay film distilled to its essence, The Mission reaches for the sublime. A celebration of pure form (think Seven Samurai refracted through Takeshi Kitano, via Melville), To's version of Hong Kong minimalism is stillness at full speed. That might sound like a contradiction, but To, the key current incarnation of Hong Kong auteur as artist-craftsman, can pull it off, with wit, panache, and the crackling sound of tension released like a gunshot. The thrilling central sequence, an action set-piece in a shopping mall that, zen-like, celebrates non-action, is already a classic: not to be missed.
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