Expect the Unexpected (1998) Review

"Expect the Unexpected" Italian DVD Cover

“Expect the Unexpected” Italian DVD Cover

Director: Patrick Yau
Producer: Johnnie To
Cast: Lau Ching Wan, Simon Yam, Ruby Wong, Hui Siu Hung, Raymond Wong Ho Yin, Yoyo Mung Ka Wai, Bak Ka San, Keiji Sato, Joe Cheng Cho, Lester Chan Chit Man, Lam Suet
Running Time: 87 min.

By Joe909

I’ve always hated sitcoms that base their entire narrative upon one character’s hidden desire for another (which pretty much sums up most sitcoms). You know, Guy A secretly yearns for Girl B, and the only people who know of this desire are Guy A’s Platonic Friends 1 and 2. It goes on and on, with no resolution (at least, until the ratings drop). I’ve always wished these sort of sitcoms would just end with each of the bastards getting shotgunned out of their misery. Looks like the Milkyway guys felt the same.

Expect the Unexpected is like a sitcom mixed with a grisly crime story. Office hijinks rub against such horrifying images as a dead baby in a dryer. One officer tries to hook his brother up with a girl that he himself likes, while dark clouds endlessly piss on the city. An older cop tries to figure out if he should stick with his wife or his mistress, while a gang of crooks rape and pillage as they please. Even the bubbly theme song sounds like something you’d more expect to hear in a Hollywood comedy.

Lau Ching Wan and Simon Yam are great in otherwise bland roles as brothers who work in the same precinct; they both like Yoyo Meung, who apparently doesn’t know which of the two she herself likes. Lam Suet is introduced as a down-and-out mainlander who’s gotten into crime to feed his family, before he promptly disappears from the movie. Lam’s screw-up pals barely get a few minutes of screen time, and the film’s other criminals, the stone-faced, mainland rapists, look genuinely dangerous. So, while Wan and Yam try to decide which of them gets to bone Yoyo, the mainland crooks/rapists run rampant across Hong Kong. This proves to be the gist of the entire film.

There’s a little more action on display than other Milkyways I’ve seen, though not up there with “Fulltime Killer.” The opening scene in which Lam Suet runs aimlessly around back alleys is entertaining, as is the sequence where the mostly-naked criminal takes on the cops with his AK-47. But these action scenes are more along the realistic vibe. They aren’t artful shoot-outs, as you’d expect from other HK actioners.

The fact that Lam Suet’s pals are introduced as harmless goofballs, but morph into deadly murderers by the film’s end, does in fact reek of dues ex machina. This could have easily been avoided with a few storyline changes, but these changes were apparently overlooked. As it is, the only hint we receive that these goons might be capable of such destruction is when Jimmy the cop stares hard at the video footage of them robbing a jewelry store: the camera lingers on one of the goons, who holds a gun. This makes an impression on Jimmy, which seems all the more apparent in that he is not with the others in the final battle; perhaps he learned a lesson, while they did not. But then again, maybe I’m just reading too much into the damn thing.

Those of you who want a happy ending, just don’t watch the last ten minutes. The fatalistic, nihilistic last few minutes of film do nothing to leave a lasting impact; rather, the ending just gives you a “they must’ve run out of ideas” type feeling. If fatalism was the desired theme of the film, then the storytellers failed. Again, more of a set-up in the story would’ve helped. In summation, the plot has several bumps and the ending sucks, but it’s still a Milkyway film. Just not as good as most.

Joe909’s Rating: 6/10


By Alexander

SPOILER ALERT: Do not read this review if you are planning on seeing this film in the near future. I shamelessly give away the ending. If you plan on seeing the movie many weeks or months from now, read on, as you will have long forgotten anything I’ve written in the meandering review below.

(Oh, just read the damn thing.)

One of the things that initially appealed to me about Hong Kong cinema was the idea that gun-toting crime fighters are as fragile and prone to danger as the neighborhood grocer or school teacher. Far too many Hollywood films have featured the requisite barrel-chested uber-hero who can seemingly dodge bullets and even take one in the chest while defending a gorgeous damsel to ultimately recover, spending the rest of their chiseled-featured lives sipping fruity drinks on faraway beaches with nary a scar. Nicholas Cage, Eastwood, Arnold, Willis, Stallone, Travolta, Lundgren, Ford and a bevy of other American action “heroes” have walked headlong into waves of automatic fire and lived to tell the tale.

John Woo’s THE KILLER, however, is different. Having been reared on a steady diet of American action films, I watched wide-eyed many years ago as Chow Yun Fat crawled blindly to Danny Lee beneath flocks of pristine white doves and the strains of a Sally Yeh ballad. This hero, so menacing and cool with mammoth pistols clenched in two fists and cigarette dangling perpetually from the corner of a smirk, dies a grisly and decidedly un-heroic death. Jeffrey, a moniker only Chow Yun Fat could wear seriously, perishes in a hail of bullets. Used to seeing our heroes ending their films with a witty aside to their youthful sidekick, a smitten love or a defeated villain, I was completely caught off-guard when the two coolest cats in all of cinema are brutally murdered.

Films like BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, THE KILLER, HEROES SHED NO TEARS, A HERO NEVER DIES, A BULLET IN THE HEAD and A BETTER TOMORROW feature unfortunate consequences for their leads, further proving that Hong Kong cinema is still paying attention to the old Greek dramas and Shakespearean tragedies. The good guys, alas, do not always prevail.

Which brings me to EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED. No, it is not entirely original. Tragedies have been around for centuries. And yes, the buddy cop premise is as cliche here as it is in every other HK and US film. The love triangle between Simon Yam, Lau Ching Wan and Yo Yo Mung is simply silly. And we do need to suspend our disbelief for a few moments when we realize the tame, bumbling idiots in the first few minutes of the film have become, overnight, calculating marksmen capable of slaughtering entire police departments. But there is still something novel about seeing the good guys lose, seeing the bullets riddle their fine suits and muscled torsos. Even though I expected this somewhat ironic twist, I still enjoyed the audacity of the filmmaker to wipe out not just one of our honorable public servants, but the whole damn lot of them. Not quite as unexpected as the title suggests, but intriguing nonetheless.

ETU is also memorable for the believable relationship between the charismatic leads, Lau Ching Wan and Simon Yam. Sure, they could pull these roles off in their sleep, but these two light up the screen regardless, whether bantering inanely about women or plotting their next stake-out.

A nice change of pace from the plethora of TOKYO RAIDERS-like fluff I’ve been drowning in recently.

Alexander’s Rating: 7/10


By Numskull

If you watch this movie, expect it to be great…because it isn’t.

The botched heist. A story that’s been done way too many times. Is it any different this time ’round? Hell yes…but “different” doesn’t always mean “better”!

There are a bunch of cops. Two of them desperately want to fuck a girl who works in the restaurant across the street from the robbery site. This restaurant is located right next to a McDonald’s which is shown unobstructed about 73 times during the movie. Oh yeah, and those two cops are brothers. Two brothers at odds over a woman…golly gee, that’s a new one. The other cops have problems with their own, like adultery, getting shot in the neck, and paying too much for cigarettes. The cast shines in spots, but the story and characters don’t. The main plot is so thin that it seems almost half of this 87-minute movie consists of the cops just driving around and doing Seinfeld-style bitching and moaning. Here’s the biggest problem. You see, humor is supposed to be funny. “Funny” means something you can laugh at. This film either takes itself way too seriously or not nearly seriously enough. First a woman is hospitalized after being raped non-stop for a week; then one brother spies on the other talking to Yo Yo Mung and dubbing their voices in a make-believe conversation. In one scene, the token female cop force-feeds grapes to the bedridden, womanizing Jimmy as punishment for his promiscuous ways; in another, there’s a dead baby in the clothes dryer.

Also, it’s always raining in this movie. I mean always. It’s like they knew it had no substance, so they figured they’d make up for it with style.

SPOILER ALERT!!! IF YOU PLAN ON SEEING THIS PIECE OF CRAP, STOP READING HERE.

The ending is surprising…but again, that doesn’t mean it’s good. I find it more than a little hard to believe that two half-assed robbers who couldn’t rob the jewelery store in the first place could slaughter six trained police officers in a shootout before getting offed themselves. And don’t give me this shit about “That was their master plan.” If they were smart enough to conceive a “master plan” then they would have gotten away with the jewelery store loot in the first place, and, you know, LIVED.

Of course, the cops put up a really valiant struggle, crawling along the pavement after being shot multiple times, in excruciatingly slow motion no less. But by this time I just didn’t give a damn. I didn’t give a damn who lived or who died or who got away. My reaction was “C’mon, c’mon, die already.” I’m not opposed to having endings where things don’t all get wrapped up in a neat little package, but here, the writers just killed everyone to take the easy way out since they couldn’t think of a better finish to this thoroughly uninspired story. Of course they can make reference to the movie’s title afterwards, but the fact remains that this is a really half-assed film with a meaningless publicity stunt ending that seems to have suckered quite a few viewers.

Crap that surprises you is still crap.

Numskull’s Rating: 2/10


By Tequila

I think I’m ready to write this review now, after recovering from the temporary blindness the microscopic VCD subtitles on Expect The Unexpected’s Universe release induces. The subtitles are the smallest I’ve ever come across, I think they just had the usual VCD subs you encounter (white-on-white) downsized. If reading gives you headaches, get the DVD of the movie. Still, at least the words don’t run off the edge of the screen…

I’m going to write a review for those who haven’t seen the movie and those who have, as I have several points to make about the ending of the film, so here goes.

NON-SPOILER REVIEW:

I felt that Expect The Unexpected was a very good film, another quality Milkyway production. Unfortunately for me, I watched it last in a double bill with Needing You – a bad idea when you want something lighthearted after watching this film which is very pessimistic.

The acting is great, especially from Lau Ching-Wan (that wasn’t unexpected) and has nice enough subplots to go along with the main plot of a team of cops trying to track down a gang of psychotic baby killing live-in rapists who are exposed after a bungling robber flees the scene. While the subplot of the two brothers (Lau and Yam Tat-Wah) lusting after the same woman is old and used, it is portrayed well by all involved here. Big Bullet has an old and stereotypical plot but I don’t hear people moaning about that! It was a great film in it’s own right and I feel the same about Expect The Unexpected.

The combat is filmed realistically and fits in with the film. A John Woo-type shoot-out would be out of place; you can’t stylize rape and baby killing. The way the weather plays a part in the mood is good too, this movie is supposed to be depressing which is probably why so many people hated it.

The music is very good and very suitable and there is a good sense of location in the film, as you kind of get to know the area as the film progresses. The ending? Well, I won’t reveal it here but it certainly looked good to me – not unbelievable in any aspect. You may hate it though, a review is just an opinion.

SPOILER REVIEW:

Well then, the ending…I certainly don’t find it unbelievable – it can be quite easy for a bunch of crappy robbers to be psychotics. The cops were getting ready to celebrate the end of the serial rapist case and they weren’t wearing their vests. They expected the robbers to be bunglers yet again. So when Lau Ching-Wan tastes shotgun, it is unexpected. Get the title now? The cops had pistols, the robbers had a shotgun and an MP5 so it is highly likely that the robbers would win, although they do get wasted too. If you look at some of the most twisted men in history you can’t say they look like serial killers; Dahmer just looked like a strange loner – he was only caught due to bungling the handcuffing of some guy, and Rose West was just a middle-aged woman to most people yet she murdered more than a dozen women with her husband.

The ending worked for me, it wasn’t expected to me or the characters involved.

Tequila’s Rating: 9/10

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3 Responses to Expect the Unexpected (1998) Review

  1. martin fennell says:

    I give this an 8/10
    My favourite sequences was the “interrogation” of Collins by Sam. I thought it was going to be another example of good old fashioned police brutality, but it turned out to be quiet different, and the final shootout.

  2. Hope says:

    Loved this movie. There is a realist quality to it. Several scenes have a plainness and directness that enhances the impact of the action. The movie unfold through a series of happenings rather than giving the feeling of “here comes a story and it goes like this” narrative. The plot doesnt seem well thought-out. The lead characters somehow do not lead, but are exposed to one happening after the other. To me, in this movie, all of this added to the realist quality. Its muddy and at times confusing. Some scenes seem to be designed as “non-happenings” keeping one on hold, as they it is hard to make out how they add to everything, what is actually told through them. But again, for me this just fits perfectly with the overall composition that makes this movie unique to me.

    • ETU has always been one of my favorites as well. In fact, the entire string of Milkyway films between the period of 1996-1998 were premium quality. 🙂 And this film lives up to its title. Are you a fan of TLN, AHND and TMWTB#1?

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