|Plot Outline: Brawny Man is a musclebound male stripper who lives with a secret. No, not that he loves the steroids, but that he can see through Karma and the inevitable conclusions that others are drawn to. When the police step into his life, he finds something special in a young female police woman seeking to find a killer. The two team up to find this horrible killer, but along the way Brawny Man sees something very unfortunate in this young ladies karma… can Karma be reversed or is it just not possible?|
The Review: Johnny To is proving to be one of those directors who likes to keep his fingers in all pots. Running on Karma is one of the strangest little mainstream films I have ever seen. I call this film mainstream only because of the starpower of Andy Lau and the fact that the plot follows a narrow and cohesive plot structure. However, once you get your first sight of the body-builder suit developed for Lau, you will begin to understand just what I’m talking about. ROK isn’t so utterly bizarre that it steers from all conventional movements of scriptwriting however. Much like the majority of To’s work, ROK keeps with a fairly straightforward plot and keeps a very mainstream appeal to it; despite the film featuring freaks of nature, strange karma induced visuals and a cosmic future-seeing lead man. It is a strange, strange brew that Mr. To concocts, but he continues to impress while delivering superior entertainment than most of his peers and also a film with direction and innovation. Running On Karma is simply another great addition to a stellar filmmakers already impressive collection of amazing films. I can almost end this review right here, but it wouldn’t be Varied Celluloid if I didn’t go into a long-winded paragraph on the content of the film now would it? Of course not! However, writing about ROK just doesn’t seem to do it justice, I find myself at a pause when trying to think of things to describe it. It simply is what it is, and I’m at a loss of words nearly. The best way I can think to approach it is that it is a very good movie, that goes about things in a very different way from the norm and yet is still extremely approachable and consumer friendly. Odd, yeah, I know.
Running on Karma is not Johnny To’s greatest work however, I’m not at a loss of words simply because it is so mind numbingly amazing that to try and describe it would be too much for my mortal brain. In some ways I see it’s absurd-meets-commercial approach to be almost hyporcritical, and a flaw, but it is such a deliberate and intentionally built film that I find it hard to stand up from a pulpit and say “Nuh uh Mr. To, I don’t like the way you mixed all that weird stuff in with the love story and the pretty colors and the slightly conventional storyline, no siree bob!” but I think what it comes down to more than anything is that the film feels slightly uneven. Working like an old Jimmy Wang Yu film, with all the crazy Indian guys shrinking and stretching their bodies all over the place, ROK is an oddity built as a commodity within the commercialized Hong Kong film market. All of this isn’t to say that I was unable to get past the odd mix of styles, I wasn’t, by the conclusion to the film you grow to understand that this indeed is far from a commercial love story or anything of the sorts. Johnny To may just have an exceptionally unusual taste for the absurd that may not get the chance to be expressed as often as some of his other obsessions. Running On Karma is a beautiful distraction, the colors throughout the film are amazingly vivid and beautiful. From green forests on the outskirts of town to the electric wildfire of the city nightlife, Running on Karma is brilliantly brought to life with some simply astonishing visuals. The rest of the cast all excuse themselves accordingly, with Andy Lau creating what may be one of his most memorable characters – and not simply because of the giant musclebound goliath costume he wears for the duration of the film. His character is also a conflicted and flawed man with great power and a hard outlook on life. He also brings to life a lot of humor within the role, which was absolutely needed to bring something like this to life since the suit itself is unfortunately pretty obvious in it’s latex texture (for a movie prop, it is excellent – but actually fooling an audience member… well, I don’t think it’s going to happen easily). Lau is pitch perfect, the action within the film is beautifuly and rhythmic – featuring some fairly inventive wire-fu for those looking for a little martial arts action on top of their musclebound stripper with psychic powers-movies.
What more can a guy really say about something as crazy as this? Did you not read that last paragraph? This is a MUSCLEBOUND STRIPPER WITH PSYCHIC POWERS MOVIE! And done in a more serious manner than you could probably expect! If you’re a fan of Johnny To, it’s a bizarre curiosity that is still a very strong film. Essentially no matter what he does he’s going to make it as strong as possible it seems, and this is just a testament to that. Please check it out sometime, you can’t be dissapointed… I mean, musclebound stripper dude with psychic powers? C’mon man!