Plot Outline: When a young judo player finds great success in his field, he takes his rising star a little hard and finds solace in drinking at his club that he now owns and then gambling with what little money he generally makes. However, he isn’t that lucky in the world of gambling and is growing in debt. Enter into the picture a young woman looking for work as a singer at his club, and a young judo player looking to take on a legend. Thus begins our tale of renewal, sports and the search for acceptance as only Johnny To could tell it.
The Review: Even though I have been on it for a while now, I’m still comfortably riding on the Johnny To bandwagon and desperately searching out any and every one of his films I can get my hands on. Throwdown is just the next step in my desperate search. When I first heard the premise for Throwdown, I knew i just had to see this film. I love Johnny To’s work, and as a fan of mixed martial arts I am also a big fan of Judo. Putting the two together sounds like a swell idea to me! Throwdown however, as you might expect from To, isn’t your average martial arts film. Truthfully, the martial arts only play as a background for the world in which our characters interact with one another. Focusing more on sportsmanship, friendship and the ties that bind us – Judo just so happens to help link the whole world together. To takes the conventional story of young martial artists seeking to find someone better at the art than themselves for the ultimate challenge, and turns it on it’s head by having the master Judoka being a drunken gambler who is more than just a little bit on the pathetic side, and his self appointed partner being a failed actress. The Judo expert is the focus of the story, but each character is rich with their own history and story.
Traditionally the only present martial art shown throughout Hong Kong film history has mainly been that of Kung Fu and the many variant forms. However, I am very happy to see films like Throwdown garnering some success alongside the popular SPL and Flash Point. Even though it is not a traditional martial arts film, meaning that there are sparse fight scenes throughout and truthfully fighting, matches and even Judo are not the main focus of the film. However, Judo and the art of it are very much a factor within the film and are used as a device that in essence explains the will of the characters and the strength and motivation of competition within this sport and others. Competition is a strong word within this film as well, and I think it certainly defines this film in many ways. Johnny To crafts a film world where men are truly men, and have only one power that drives them; that thrill of competition. The immortal search of finding the soul or souls who are better than yourself; in order to grow and be even better than they are. This quest is the essential heart of Throwdown, and at its center Throwdown has a positive charm that radiates throughout it and carries a message with it that even though you might lose your way; it’s not too late to go back to what you love and to find yourself in the process. I know, kind of sweet right? Well let’s not forget this is most definitely a guy movie – and dudes most certainly get tossed right on top of their heads. It is a film about Judo afterall.
Throwdown is one of To’s personal films, financed by his more succesful work he is able to throw out these quirky smaller gems every once in a while – but much like the completely different in every other way Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike; even when To is making the most commercial product he can muster; he still makes something unbelievably original and masterful. Running on Karma is a shining example. Throwdown is not my favorite Johnny To film, but out of the handful of films I have seen thus far from Mr. To, it seems even his worst films (which this is not) are better than most “good” films. Throwdown is a sports related drama, and anyone expecting a Judo related bananza of fight scenes and breathtaking choreography behind every corner will not walk away the most satisfied person on the planet but if you’re looking for another great Johnny To film and want to see him handle a sports related drama with more than a few Akira Kurosawa references; Throwdown is a top notch choice. I’m giving it four out of five, because if I haven’t made it clear at this point: it is a beautifully moving drama with tons of emotional depth and leaves the viewer in their seat long after the movie is over: smiling, and satisfied. That same type of feeling you get after reading a good book. Where you feel as if you followed these characters on such an interesting journey; and although you wish you could see more, understand that this is where the journey ends, and unfortunately – this is where this review ends.