Once again proving that rumors of the death of great Hong Kong filmmaking have been greatly exaggerated, auteur Johnnie To follows his acclaimed triad duet ELECTION and TRIAD ELECTION/ELECTION II with this extraordinarily beautiful gangster drama.
Tired of life on the run, exiled gangster Wo (Nick Cheung) returns to Macao on the eve of the 1998 Portuguese handover in hopes of settling down with his wife, Jin (Josie Ho), and their month-old baby, though Wo knows coming home means his death. Wo and his old friend Tai (Francis Ng) conspired to kill tyrannical Boss Fay (Simon Yam); when the plan went awry, Wo alone took the rap and never rolled over. Now Boss Fay has sent Wo's old friends and comrades Tai, Fat (Suet Lam), Cat (Roy Cheung) and Blaze (the great Anthony Wong) to kill him. When Wo arrives at his new apartment with a truck full of furniture, they're already there, waiting with guns drawn. After a tense face-off, the unexpected happens: Instead of killing Wo, they put down their guns and help him move in, repairing the bullet holes they just blasted into his walls and doors and carrying in his furniture before sitting down to dinner. Grateful to Wo for his honorable conduct after the failed attempt on Boss Fay's life, Blaze agrees not to kill him until his wife and child are financially secure. Looking for a job to pull behind Boss Fay's back, they pay a visit to oily opportunist Jeff (Siu-Fai Cheung), who's making the most of the changing face of Macao's underworld anticipating the colony's handover, the Chinese bosses are leaving in droves and the inevitable settling of old scores. Jeff tells them that a $500,000 bounty has been placed on the head of Boss Keung (Ka Tung Lam), one of Macao's most powerful up-and-comers. Blaze and the boys agree to take the job, unaware that it was Boss Fay who commissioned the hit. When Boss Fay shows up in Macao unexpectedly, and Wo is seriously wounded by Keung, it's up to Wo's would-be assassins to save his life while on the run from the newly formed alliance between Bosses Keung and Fay.
Exiled from the strictly regimented triad system but still honor-bound, Blaze and his men are buffeted by fate and crazy luck (every key decision is determined by a coin toss), and consequently there's nothing predictable about the film. Though considerably more sentimental than the harder-hearted ELECTION films, it's also more stylized and much more violent (it's also beautifully scored): To's shoot-outs are masterful displays of composition and choreography, often unfolding in cramped apartments, open-air stairwells and courtyards. The final confrontation is a slow-motion, De Palma-esque massacre in a hotel lobby that begins and ends in the amount of time it takes for a high-flying can of Red Bull to hit the floor. Breathtaking. leave a comment --Ken Fox