Far East Film Festival 20

Udine Italy April 20th/ April 28th 2018
The Film Festival For Popular Asian Cinema
Visionario, Via Asquini 33
Monday, April 24, time 5.15 PM

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The Mission

When discussing post-handover Hong Kong cinema, you could argue that someone other than Johnnie To should be considered Hong Kong’s representative director. However, you would probably lose that argument. From his superb crime films to his popular audience hits, To and his company Milkyway Image have been Hong Kong cinema’s most consistent player over the past two decades, earning critical praise, box office dollars, and international film festival recognition. Even when dabbling in lighter genres, Johnnie To and his Milkyway Image team can be counted on for creative, intelligent, and surprising filmmaking. Given his prolific and frequently impressive output, it would be hard to choose a single film to represent Johnnie To.
Or you could just choose The Mission. The gold standard of Johnnie To’s crime films is also his most simple, spare, and elegant work. Five triad members (Anthony Wong, Francis Ng, Lam Suet, Roy Cheung, and Jacky Lui) are enlisted to protect gang leader Boss Lung (Eddy Ko) from hired assassins. The five men start as acquaintances but end up forming a mutual trust that allows them to work together and eventually navigate an internal conflict that threatens their lives. The Mission is not that forthcoming; the script doesn’t provide explanations for every nuance. What’s required is that the audience understand the unspoken code that governs the triads, as well as the brotherhood that unites the men. For Johnnie To, The Mission isn’t about telling a story, it’s about initiating the audience into this particular take on the underworld life.
If The Mission could be described in one word, it would be ‘precise.’ From minute one, exacting detail and performances show us how cool these men are. They plan precisely, requesting the exact trigger pull weight of their firearms, or scouting every nook and cranny of Lung’s estate. Their movements are precise; they clear rooms like the secret service, and quietly assemble into formation when leaving locations. Most of all, their gunplay is precise. The Mission is no ‘bullet ballet.’ Firefights are about using cover correctly, taking careful aim, and showing limitless patience. Like his characters, Johnnie To is precise in his direction, and paces the film methodically yet playfully. Nothing is wasted here – everyone in The Mission has a purpose, even if it’s just standing around looking like they’re doing nothing.
Even the lighter moments are precise – especially the famous scene where the five men kick a crumpled paper ball around an office lobby while waiting for Lung. Shot in one take, the scene wordlessly establishes characters and relationships based on who kicks the ball, when they kick it, and who takes the longest to kick it back. It’s a terrific and subtle scene that seems throwaway, but it possesses more character development than two extra subplots in another film. Chung Chi-wing’s playful-on-steroids synth score adds flavour, while the actors use impassive gazes or slight tilts of their heads to convey multiple emotions. These men are professionals, as is Johnnie To, and professionals let their actions do the talking.
If you still doubt that The Mission should be considered the representative Johnnie To work, look no further than his 2006 crime actioner Exiled. Filled with explosive gunplay and swelling machismo, Exiled is a fan favourite and plays like To’s personal tribute to his own storied crime film canon, and it stars Anthony Wong, Francis Ng, Lam Suet, and Roy Cheung – four of the five leading actors from The Mission. Johnnie To may be suggesting which film, out of all his acclaimed crime films, is the representative one. He even uses action, not words, to tell us.
Ross Chen (www.lovehkfilm.com)
Film director: 
To Johnnie
Year: 
1999
Running time: 
84

Photogallery

  • The Mission 00
  • The Mission 01
  • The Mission 02
  • The Mission 03