Fantasia 2010: ACCIDENT Review

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Fantasia 2010: ACCIDENT Review
[Our thanks to Lauren Baggett for the following review.]

Seldom has a premise been so wasted. A hit team that carefully crafts their assassinations to look like freak accidents, therefore avoiding any suspicions of foul play? And then the hit team comes under fire in the form of rival accidents? It's a plot that's deceptively simple, a glorious excuse to show us car crashes and tramline electrocutions choreographed with the intention of looking, well, as unchoreographed as possible. So it's a real shame that Accident stops delivering these delightful scenes of destruction less than halfway through the movie in favor of a more personal plot clearly inspired by American paranoia thrillers of the 1970's. While this seems to be a minority opinion, the about-face simply doesn't work.

Accident starts out with a bang, as we witness the hit team taking out a Triad boss with the help of a well-timed flat tire, a fallen piece of canvas, and a liberal serving of broken glass to the throat. While their team dynamics are seemingly flawless while on the job, relations are more strained behind the scenes. Their elder member is lapsing into the sort of sudden-onset dementia you only see in the movies, leader Brain (a bespectacled Louis Koo) obsessively spies on the rest of his team as a matter of course, and their latest hit is even more complicated then usual. The sequence chronicling the patient and painstaking development of this particular assassination is the high point of the film. The tightly controlled patterns which emerge as the team assembles night after night, ready to act on Brain's say-so, grow balletic in precision. When this assignment gives way to an unexpected catastrophe that leaves a team member dead, Brain cannot believe that this was simply an unfortunate coincidence. Brain's team is devoted to making planned murders look like freak accidents; what if someone with the same skills is attacking them using their own methods?

To my immense exasperation, this development means that the grandiose set pieces give way to a more claustrophobic narrative hinging upon Brain's growing fear that someone is out to get him. And here is where Accident's Achilles' Heel lies. Many reviews have praised Accident to the high heavens for this psychological centering. Brain withdraws from both the outside world and his teammates, unable to trust anyone, growing increasingly more convinced that their most recent hit was a setup and that someone has dedicated themselves to destroying the accident team. He sets his considerable surveillance skills to tracking the most possible suspect, a slick-looking insurance agent, becoming more and more isolated as he does so. The problem is that Brain's angst and neuroses are so focused upon that his comrades come across as nothing more than ciphers.
Because Brain is the only fleshed out character, it's difficult to gauge the depth of his unease because everyone else around him (with the possible exception of dementia-addled Uncle) is such a cardboard cutout.
When he suspects a compatriot of betrayal, there is no suspense. Instead of being distressed at the possibility of this character being a baddie, we simply treat the interrogation that follows with impatience. The film never bothered to make us invested in anyone who isn't Brain in the first place, so why should we in the audience give a damn? The editing, which often lags in scenes that don't involve 'accidents', doesn't help much here, either.

These problems could have been semi-redeemed with a corker of an ending.
Instead, Accident serves us a final act which manages to be simultaneously melodramatic, anticlimactic, and just plain absurd. It's hard to adequately express my displeasure without ruining the ending, so I'll simply say this: Accident's denouement, while not as bad as the classic "it was all a dream!" ending copout, is pretty damn close to being that pathetic. A twist which could have been pulled off without a flaw in a different film instead falls laughably, horrifyingly flat. The fact that this farce comes from such a tremendous pedigree (produced by Johnnie To and directed by Soi Cheang, who gave us the phenomenal Dog Bite Dog a few Fantasias back) only adds to the disappointment. It hurts me to say this, but this Accident is one best avoided.

Review by Lauren Baggett
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More about Accident 20, 2010 12:29 AM

I loved it. I didn't see any of the problems you saw in it, or if i did they didn't bother me nearly as much, and i think it was one of the best Hong Kong films ive seen in a while.

I liked being reminded of Rear Window and The Conversation, and i genuinely believe it did an amazing job of standing up to these great American touchstones.