The Plot: Five career criminals are brought together in order to protect crime boss Lung, who knows the majority of the crew personally and depends on them to continually save his life as he is gunned at by hired assassins. The five men share a close bond and grow to rely on one another during this dangerous mission. However, after everything goes according to plan – it is revealed that Lung’s wife and the youngest member of the group, Shin, have had an affair. Curtis, who goes by the nickname Ice Cold due to his ability to kill without regret or apprehension, is given the task from Mr. Lung to see to the death of Shin. Once word is out with the rest of the group however, they do not share the ice cold mentality of Curtis and will do everything in their power to protect the young man. So the group is at odds, and how the situation is resolved will keep you guessing at all times.
The Review: Although I’ve been writing about Asian Cinema for roughly four years now, I have this website that is all but dedicated to the genre’s within it and I’m conventionally “supposed” to be pretty knowledgeable about this sort of stuff – I completely missed the boat on both Johnny To and his film The Mission. I had been recommended the film years ago, but unfortunately was never able to find the time to get around to checking it out or much else from Johnny To outside of Fulltime Killer and The Big Heat. Two films that I enjoyed immensely, as a matter of fact. After yet another recommendation from a friend, I decided to go out in search of more from this director who had alluded me for so long. After all of the hype, after all of the folks who stood up and told me to run – not walk – out the door and go track this film down; I can now look them all in the eye and say: you were exactly right. Not being the sort of fella to really let hype get in my way much anymore, I was able to sit down and enjoy The Mission with peace of mind – and I walked away in love. In love with a new form of gangster film I had not been introduced to. A classy and swaggering form of crime film that is high on style, not low on substance and keeps you intrigued and guessing until the very end. Yep folks, now it is my turn to add to the hype machine that The Mission and Johnny To’s work so obviously deserves.
One would think that after Fulltime Killer left such an impression with me, that I would have rushed out to see more from this director – but who can explain human idiocy with reason? Not I, that’s for sure. Missing out on so much of Johnny To’s work for so long was simple ignorance on my part, when all around me have bragged on him with such force. The Mission just helped to re-inforce this for me and from here out – I am going to do my best to track down as much from this well rounded director as possible. The Mission I hear is one of his better films, and from seeing The Big Heat and Fulltime Killer – I can tell that his work remains pretty consistent. So, at this point (a paragraph and a half spent on just the director and my own relation to the film? Not the first time here at VC!) you’re probably wanting to know just what separates The Mission from the dozens of other triad gangster films somewhere floating around in the Hong Kong market. Well, there’s an odd quality to the mission that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before – certainly not in a film of the past decade. From the synthesized score that belongs in early 70’s Hollywood action fare or an Italian crime film – to the odd but unbelievable moments of pure style and class that To delivers. Unlike Woo – this isn’t a film about non-stop action. Unlike Lam – this isn’t a gritty and urban tragedy. To creates a thinking man’s crime film, delivering a twisting and turning plot with genre devices used liberally but not relying simply on the “cool” factor that some directors might exorcise. To knows that these characters are all “cool”, but he shows us their personality’s as they play out and gives all of the individual leads enough character that they aren’t simply shadows of humanity. Each character has his fault and each character has as much of an arch that a six or seven man lead cast can have.
Where John Woo gave his characters a very human edge in a hard business such as the triads; and showed them as average Joe’s under extreme amounts of pressure. To’s characters could be criticized as a little more shallow in the fact that they are supermen in extreme situations – but these characters are played in as plausible a manner as Woo’s woefully dramatic heroes were. That is not a negative comment for either director; but each plays their cards in completely different ways and in the end, each plays their hand with a full house. I’m not a poker player however, so excuse that rather lame quip. What it comes down to however is that The Mission is a brilliantly played action film in a new direction than what the past has presented us; and To shows a very mature look at a genre that had perhaps hit a stalemate. The Mission gives legitimacy to the crime genre; with an amazing cast who give brilliant performances. Characters with moral and ethical reasoning despite their horrendous condition and an absolutely breathtakingly presented film that should not be missed. I give the film an unblemished 5 of 5, a film with very little in the way of flaws. Breathtaking filmmaking in all forms.