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Feature


A self-styled accident choreographer, Ho Kwok-fai, aka The Brain, (Louis Koo) is a professional hit-man who kills his victims by trapping them in well-crafted accidents that look like unfortunate mishaps, but are in fact perfectly staged acts of crime. He is perennially plagued with guilt as the avalanche of memories of his recently lost wife continue to haunt him. After one mission goes horribly wrong, costing the life of one of his men, Brain is convinced that this accident has been choreographed and someone is out there plotting to terminate him and his team. He becomes increasingly paranoid, walking the thin line between reality and delusion. When he discovers that a mysterious insurance agent, Chan Fong-chow, (Richie Jen, Exiled) is somewhat related to one of the accidents he has staged, Brain becomes obsessed with the idea that this man must be the mastermind behind a conspiracy to take him out. To regain his sanity and save his life, he must stay one step ahead of Chan before he makes his next move. (From the official Shout! Factory synopsis)

Accident
Originally released in China back in 2009, Accident has been mostly advertised by Shout! Factory as a Johnnie To film, despite To not acting as the film’s director. For those not particularly concerned with Hong Kong/Chinese cinema, the rather industrious To was originally known for a series of pulpy martial arts and action films, but has become more famous for his recent crime films. Of his early films, I’m most fond of The Heroic Trio and its sequel The Executioners, which starred superstars Michelle Yeoh, Maggie Cheung and Anita Mui as a, erm, heroic trio of super-powered kung-fu fighters. I’m not nearly as fond of To’s second round of fame, which includes The Mission, PTU, and Election 1 and 2. This seems to have less to do with the quality of To’s direction and/or production, and a whole lot more to do with my personal apathy towards modern Chinese crime cinema, which I often find tonally flat and narratively repetitive. None of these are bad films, they’re just not films I particularly enjoyed, and as a result I’ve found myself avoiding To’s films since, which is I admit unprofessional and childish.

Accident comes as a review requirement, but that isn’t the only reason I was more willing to approach it with an open mind. High among my reasons is the fact that it isn’t written or directed by To. I hadn’t seen any of director Cheang Pou-soi’s (aka: Soi Cheang) other films, but happily recognize their tonal diversity based on plot descriptions. Cheang’s direction here is marvelously studious and at its best when he’s telling stories through a succession of images, rather than the script’s middling words. He has good taste and expressionistic bouts of artistic flare, which are occasionally overwhelming (he tends to over-cut simple dialogue exchanges and his obsession with shooting through objects verges on silly), but adds a massive cool factor to what could failed as a simple thriller. His control of geography during the action is particularly impressive, enough to make me genuinely excited to see his next film – a big-budget retelling of the Monkey King myth (last seen in Rob Minkoff and Yeun Woo-ping’s underrated The Forbidden Kingdom). The film’s opening sequence, which establishes its basic concept, is a near-brilliant mini-movie. Things take a dip as the drama of the situation and plotline are introduced, but Cheang’s flashy and dynamic direction carries the film through some of its roughest lapses in momentum.

Accident
Another sight-unseen asset in the film’s favour is that Szeto Kam-Yuen and Nicholl Tang’s screenplay has little to do with the ins and outs of gangland China. It’s more of a Hitchcockian thriller focused on paranoia, and, at 89 minutes long, Accident doesn’t drone into the needlessly epic lengths of many of To’s crime films. This tight thriller is a sort of conceptually dramatic play on the Rube Goldberg tropes of the Final Destination horror series and it’s almost as much fun to watch the preparation of these ‘accidents’ as it is to watch them violently unwind. The lead character, ‘The Brain,’ appears to be based on Harry Caul, the socially inept main character of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation. He’s obviously paranoid and constantly, quietly dissecting the world and people around him (his constant surveillance of the people around him doesn’t hurt the comparison either). He’s given a solid romantic relationship in an effort to make us connect with him as a human being, but he’s still presented as a rather dark figure. This works for the most part thanks to Louis Koo’s stoic performance, but does represent a component of one of the film’s biggest issues – its lack of humour. Like so many of To’s crime epics, Accident is a well-directed film that is sold short by its refusal to crack a smile. Fortunately, the brief runtime does wonders for its po-faced obsessions and the gut-punch of the last act is actually pretty well-earned.

Accident

Video


Accident’s apparently 35mm imagery looks very, very digital on this 1080p HD transfer. I’m not sure if this weird sheen is part of Cheang’s design or a case of machine noise, but whatever the cause, I found it distracting for small sections of the film. There is grain and occasional flecks of print damage to prove this is film, but over-brightened whites, sharpening effects and general digital noise makes for a somewhat unattractive experience. If this had been a digital HD lensed feature I imagine I wouldn’t have any trouble ignoring these artefacts, but with this knowledge in hand I suspect that Shout Factory (or whoever supplied them with this master, made some errors in the conversion and compression process). On the better side of things the warm and eclectic colour schemes are quite vibrant and, assuming scenes aren’t playing out in dingy darkness, colours are well separated with only minor bleeding and banding issues. Detail levels are also quite sharp, both in terms of the fine textures of close-ups and complex background textures (though the blur of shallow focus and the corner of the lens do hurt these on occasion). Black levels are plenty strong, though the high contrast and ‘digitalish’ look leads to some noticeable edge haloes and other aforementioned sharpening effects.

This release is cropped at 1.78:1, but the original specs list the film as being original shown in 2.35:1. While watching the film I didn't notice any obviously missing information, but it makes sense that the images would be less claustrophobic and likely more graphically impactful. I'm not sure why Shout! Factory chose to reframe the film.

Audio


The video quality is somewhat lacking at times, but this DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 original Cantonese soundtrack fires on all cylinders throughout the film’s runtime. The basic sound design leans heavily on dynamic range to build the appropriate mood. There isn’t an excess of directional effects, but the differentiation between silence and noise is quite sharp. This sharpness helps emphasize the delicate nature of the film’s ‘wetwork.’ The stereo and surround channels get plenty involved when it comes to immersive effects, like heavy rain and street traffic. The effects here are loud enough to make the audience take notice, but not so loud that they become abrasive. The mix runs into occasional problems with its centered dialogue track. Here, the highest end volume of characters shouting occasionally causes some minor buzzing distortion. Xavier Jamaux’s simple and moody score reveals its synthetic origins, thanks to the track’s clarity (it’s likely we’re meant to assume he’s working with real strings and a live piano), but overall, the music is warm, and features strong bass and stereo presence.

Accident

Extras


The extras on this release are minor. These start with a Making-Of featurette/EPK (12:40, SD) featuring interviews with producer Johnny To, director Cheang, and actors Louis Koo, Richie Ren and Michelle Ye, along with behind the scenes footage and footage from the finished film. The only other extra is a trailer.

Overall


Accident is a flawed film, but it’s very well made and tightly constructed enough to avoid drawing too much attention to these flaws. Readers like me that have found themselves bored by Johnny To’s crime movie output will want to ignore their prejudices and give this unique thriller a chance, though, perhaps just in a rental capacity for the time being (FYI, it’s on the Netflix instant stream). Shout! Factory’s disc looks pretty good overall (aside from a digital sheen that I suspect is unintended) and sounds fantastic, but doesn’t feature much in the way of extra material.

* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.


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