Monday, November 16, 2009
Pou-Soi Cheang's Accident (2009)
A young woman has a flat tire in the middle of a crowded street in Hong Kong. The older gentleman behind her is irritated that she won't move her car to the side, so he takes a right turn down another street. The older gentleman inches by a large truck, and its cargo of water splashes onto the street and into his window. With the water stunning him momentarily, the older gentleman is blindsided by a banner which falls onto his windshield and covers his view. The gentleman exits his car to remove the banner, and in the exact spot where he is standing a chain breaks and a large piece of glass falls directly on his head. The gentleman dies from the injury.Accident? Of course not. The older gentleman was a Triad boss and his hit was performed by Kwok-fai Ho (Louis Koo), aka "The Brain," in Pou-Soi Cheang's ironically-titled Accident (2009). The young woman with the flat tire (Michelle Ye), never named in the film; the truck driver of the water cargo, elderly Uncle (Shui-Fan Fung); and a man in a room above the banner, Fatty (Suet Lam) are part of Brain's crew; and this team's modus operandi is staging meticulous and intentional hits and giving the appearance of the victim's death as an accident. For a sum of money, of course. Produced by Johnnie To and his Milkyway Production Company, Cheang delivers a fantastic character study, surrounded by an intriguing plot, with Accident.The crew preps for their next hit: their mark is a disabled, elderly father whose son is their client. Koo's character takes the job and begins observing the son and the father's behavior. He notices, almost like clockwork, that the son pushes his father's wheelchair across trolley tracks on the way home at the end of the workday. The Brain's elaborate plan is to use the trolley tracks' electricity and shock the old man in his wheelchair as he crosses. Rain and a well-placed conduit wire is necessary to complete the task. The crew assembles after a long duration of planning, only to wait, night after night, for the perfect culmination of rain, darkness, and crew persistence. When all the elements come together, one evening, the hit is performed successfully, with only a slight hitch. As Koo's Brain walks away from the "crime" scene, he is almost hit by a bus, skidding in the rainwater, which ends up ramming into a car, sliding into a fence, only after the bus has hit and killed Fatty head on. Brain doesn't think the bus had an accident, after he arrives home and there's been a break-in. Every cent of money that he's ever earned on a job has been taken and his flat ransacked. Unlike his previous two films, Dog Bite Dog (2006) and Shamo (2007), Accident is very slick-looking and calculated, more like a To film, and lacks the raw intensity and emotion of the former. It is a perfect style, however, for a film about a man who desperately tries to manipulate and control people and events involving risk, coincidence, and chance. After the Triad hit, the crew assembles in their hideout, and the woman chastises Uncle for being careless and leaving a cigarette butt at the accident scene. Uncle tries to go back to the scene to retrieve it, but the woman said she's already taken it. Uncle tells the woman and Fatty to forget about it. Uncle insists that his carelessness won't happen again and hopes Brain doesn't find out. Too late: Brain's got a bug in his hideout. He wants to know everything going on behind his back. Koo's character has the butt from the crime scene and asks Uncle why he lied. After the hit on the disabled, elderly father, Koo's Brain follows the son to the insurance office and spies through his telescope, the son and the insurance agent (Richie Ren). Their body language appears odd to Koo's character: he begins a meticulous surveillance of the insurance agent, by renting a nearby apartment to spy on him, bugging the interior to hear his conversations, and learn his every day rituals. Koo believes the bus was trying to intentionally kill him and now he trusts no one. The truth, he believes, will be revealed at some point by the insurance agent. Observation, diligence, and patience is all that Koo needs.The initial imagery of Accident, depicting a car crash accident and woman's death, resonates throughout the film, both for Koo's character and the film's theme. Accident is a journey and meditation on the theme of control. Is one able to control his/her actions and emotions? Is it possible to determine and manipulate the future with an accurate degree of certainty? Accident, however, is solely not an intellectual exercise. Louis Koo truly carries the film with an excellent performance, quite possibly his best performance of his career. It is through his eyes that the viewer sees Accident, and the mystery which unfolds is so engaging that it is only at the ending where the viewer can step outside of the narrative and reflect. Like Koo's character, Accident is meticulously written and shot with an adept eye to detail. In order for Koo's Brain and crew to be successful with their "accident" hits to fool the police, the accidents have to look genuine. Likewise, Cheang has to make the scenarios and set-ups look believable and credible to the viewer: he's successful. Visually, Cheang's film is on par with the work of his producer. Anyone who has seen, say, Johnnie To's Breaking News (2004), with its fantastic opening shootout, or his more recent Sparrow (2008), with its elaborate pickpocket sequence in the rain, knows the man can shoot a slick-looking, elaborate, and exciting action sequence. Accident is both cosmetically beautiful and rich substantively. The film is garnering praise as one of the best films from Hong Kong this year. While I haven't seen that many films from Hong Kong this year, Accident is one of the best films that I've seen this year, from anywhere.