Mission, The (1999) Review

"The Mission" Chinese Theatrical Poster

“The Mission” Chinese Theatrical Poster

Director: Johnnie To
Writer: Nai-Hoi Yau
Producer: Johnnie To
Cast: Anthony Wong Chau-Sang, Francis Ng Chun-Yu, Jackie Lui Chung-yin, Roy Cheung, Suet Lam, Simon Yam, Tin Lam Wong, Eddy Ko-Hung
Running Time: 88 min.

By Woody

“The Mission” concerns a rich businessman hiring a diverse group of men, including Anthony Wong, Lam Suet, and Francis Ng, to protect him from killers trying to take him out. After they have successfully completed their mission, one of the guys is accused of sleeping with the boss’s wife. A contract is put out of his life. Will his buddies betray him or the boss?

Much like his “A Hero Never Dies” was a homage to the films of John Woo, this is Johnny To’s homage to the films of both Takeshi Kitano and Akira Kurosawa. Like Kitano, To emphasizes a lot of small moments, the most notable being what is probably the most memorable scene in the film, an impromptu game of futbol among the bodyguards. Like Kurosawa, To’s action scenes are intelligent and well thought out, and there is a surprising amount of humanity present throughout the film.

This is a thinking man’s action film. The few action scenes here are all used to either illustrate a point or propel the plot, and all of them are played out like chess games; they are very deliberate and well thought out. The end of the film and everything that leads up to it is also really well thought out.

The acting, writing, and direction of this film are great. The ensemble cast is perfect, which each character being easy to distinguish from the other. My personal favorite performances were those of Anthony Wong, Lam Suet, and Francis Ng. Wong plays a cold, calculated hairdresser (only in Hong Kong…) to perfection, Lam plays a dude who wants no one to get hurt and is constantly chomping on pistachios, and Ng is great as a young triad punk who owns a club and worries for his buddy who slept with the boss’s wife. To’s direction here is just as great as the acting. Much like Kitano and Kurosawa, there is no rapid fire editing or bizarre camera angles…this is a film that depends on it’s script and it’s actors, not flashiness and excess. The cinematography is also well done, and uses a lot of blues and reds to good effect.

The only thing I am unsure about with this movie is the music. It honestly sounds like someone playing around on a Casio keyboard, but I can’t help from liking it, and the main theme will forever be stuck in my head.

So, there you have it. This is a thinking man’s action film from Hong Kong, of all places. One of my favorite To movies. Excellent characterizations, scriptwriting, directing, and action…one of the best HK movies I’ve seen in quite a long while. Worth buying.

Woody’s Rating: 9/10

By Alexander

I REALLY wanted to like this movie.

I’ve heard plenty of great things about THE MISSION on this site and others and the DVD spent a VERY long time in my rental qeue at Netflix before ever becoming available, testament to its popularity. The cast includes some of Hong Kong’s best actors including Anthony Wong (BEAST COPS), Simon Yam (FULLTIME KILLER, BULLET IN THE HEAD) and Francis Ng (FULL ALERT) and is directed by the popular Johnnie To. The faces are recognizable and handsome, they wear great suits, they tote a potent arsenal and the dialogue is better than the usual Hong Kong fare. It’s occassionally funny and features a couple of wonderfully inventive scenes, including two near dialogue-less ones involving a crumpled piece of paper as improvised soccer ball and another set in a desolate mall. Both are examples of To’s deft direction and the inherent charisma of the film’s major players.

BUT, it isn’t until the 44th minute of the film that anything actually happens and even then it’s definitely a case of style over substance. The mall scene LOOKS great, as do most of the scenes in the film, but there isn’t a whole lot happenin’ here. None of the more inventive scenes compensate for the run-of-the-mill story. It’s a fairly straight forward tale of a cobbled together group of body guards with very different personalities and agendas. The pacing is rather slow, but as a fan of Wong Kar Wai, this isn’t what turned me off of the film. It was the fact that such a wonderful collection of stars had so very little to do but simply look cool as hell. Sure doesn’t make a film interesting.

The score is quirky, for lack of a better word. My wife walked in the door near the end of the film and said, “That’s some funky music.” Agreed. The film would have been slightly better with an improved soundtrack, one lacking what sounded at times like an 8-year old experimenting with a Casio keyboard.

A disappointment, but nonetheless a mildly enjoyable 88 minutes. Fans of any of the aforementioned actors probably should not miss this, nor should fans of Johnnie To. Here’s hoping, though, that my second To film is better than the first.

Alexander’s Rating: 6/10

By Joe909

The movie for which Johnnie To was awarded Best Director in 1999, The Mission is up there with the best of Milkyway. The film is different in that there isn’t one main character, or even two: there are five main characters, each of them as important to the plot as the other. This multiple lead character syndrome could be an audience’s nightmare, but To et al deftly handle the challenge, so that we learn just enough about each character’s background, and to know what sets them apart from the rest.

The concept behind the movie is pretty neat, and reminds me of the plot of several old kung-fu movies: five bodyguards are hired to protect a triad chief. Just like in the chop-sockeys of yore, these guys are the foot soldiers, obeying their boss’s every whim and pledged to protect his life at all costs. But whereas an old kung-fu movie with this plot would have a fight about every ten minutes or so, The Mission is slightly more static: what few gunfights it features are filmed in a none-too-exciting fashion.

For instance, the battle in the deserted shopping mall. An excellent setting for gun-toting mayhem; John Woo could’ve filmed a ten-minute scene in such a location, easily, complete with guys getting blasted through toy-store windows in slow-motion, etc. However, To isn’t going down the John Woo road, and, like Shakespeare’s “Titus Andronicus,” most of the action takes place off-screen. All we hear are the guards shooting at rival gangsters; very rarely do we see who they are shooting at, or anyone getting shot. This sounds boring, but To is a directing genius, and I don’t think he could film a boring scene if his career depended on it. Though I must admit that I did get a bit tired of watching our gang fire off into the dark at invisible assailants, then see the muzzle flashes of their sniper foes in the distance, then our heroes shooting back again, and etc. The last gunfight especially goes on for too long, with the guards under fire from a group of snipers, who lurk above them in an abandoned warehouse. It’s cool and mysterious, but I’d rather see guys fighting face-to-face.

However, the sniper shootout leads to a scene that contains probably one of the most powerful yet subtle moments I’ve seen in a movie. The guards manage to live through the fight and take out all of their attackers, save one. Two of the guards, Roy (Francis Ng) and Shin (Jackie Liu) sneak into the building and approach the final sniper from behind, guns drawn. The sniper continues to fire down at the other guards until he runs out of bullets. He turns to Francis Ng, who has his gun on him, and smiles. Ng smiles back. It’s a small scene, but it really struck me: with absolutely no expositionary dialog we see right into the characters’ heads; they’re all in the same boat, each of them just doing their job, regardless of which side they’re on.

There isn’t very much of a story: the guys protect a boss (whom we learn almost nothing about and who seems to be friendly as hell ? though of course he orders the deaths of several people), then eventually must confront one another when they discover that one of them had an affair with the boss’s wife. But beyond that, it’s still an engrossing movie, mostly for the small moments, such as a scene of the guys bonding through an impromptu game of kickball in an office.

As usual, there isn’t a strong female presence in this movie, which isn’t surprising. I wonder if movies like this even have a female audience in Hong Kong. Probably not. They’re too busy watching the latest tearjerker with Leon Lai and Maggie Cheung, no doubt.

Joe909’s Rating: 8/10

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