Fantasia 2010: ACCIDENT Review

Contributing Writer; Toronto, Canada (@triflic)
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Fantasia 2010:  ACCIDENT Review
[While Todd liked this one a lot better than I did, nobody can argue about the tour de force set-pieces on display here.  Its playing at Fantasia and best seen on the big screen.  Here is Todd's review from the archives.]

He has shown flashes of great promise throughout his career and now, with Johnnie To produced thriller Accident, that promise has been fully realized.  Soi Cheang has just moved to the absolute upper level of Hong Kong directors, putting his own unique and icily precise spin on the crime thriller.

Louis Koo stars as Brain, the leader of a four-person crew of paid assassins with a novel approach to evading capture.  They are not captured because they are not chased.  They are not chased because nobody ever realizes any crime has been committed.  The use no guns.  They use no knives.  Their victims - not to mention their clients - never even see them.  No, rather than using conventional means this group stages their executions as elaborate, tightly controlled 'accidents'.

Though all the members of the group have their unique skills and roles to fill it is clear that Brain is the lynch pin that holds it all together, the core of all their plans.  He is meticulously detailed, an obsessive chronicler of details, a man who shows no emotion whatsoever on his surface - not ever - and so his three underlings should be forgiven for failing to notice that Brain is perpetually wracked with grief and guilt over his wife's death in a traffic accident years before.

Though they are at the top of their game, Brain will brook no failure, no slipped detail.  As he says, they're not the only ones in their trade and - even if the police may not be able to catch them - there are plenty of others who would happily kill Brain and his group, if only to take their place.  And so when a job goes wrong and Brain narrowly avoids death himself while one of his team members is killed he cannot help but wonder:  was this an accident or is someone using their own methods against them?

Though, on the surface, it is hard to believe that Accident is the product of the same director responsible for Dog Bite Dog and Shamo it is now becoming clear that Cheang's career will be marked by a style willfully shifting and twisting to match the psychological condition of his prime character.  And so where Dog is raw and dirty and brutal and Shamo full of stark contrast, Accident is shot in an icy, clinically precise, emotionally distant style that mirrors Louis Koo's performance as Brain perfectly.  Ever shot is precise, every composition crisp, everything painfully detailed and closely observed.  It is as though Cheang takes as much pleasure in deconstructing his action sequences as Brain does in constructing them and that synergy results in a string of stunning images, images that strike the audience right from the very first shot and refuse to let up until the end.

But Cheang is not satisfied to simply create a tight crime thriller here.  His aim is higher.  Anchored by one of the finest performances of Louis Koo's career, Accident becomes as much a psychological profile of its lead character - a chronicle of his spiraling descent into obsession and paranoia - as it is a straightforward action picture.  It's a unique blend and one that Cheang pulls off effortlessly.

Though not a perfect film - there is a memory loss subplot involving one of the characters essentially developing Alzheimer's that comes on far too quickly to be believable and some of the accidents seem far too complex to be plausible - even the weak parts are executed with such confidence that they are easy to forgive.  Accident is clearly the high point of Cheang's career and - even moreso - proof that Hong Kong film in general has not lost its ability to reinvent the crime thriller.
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https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawlMkyASLggt9hZMz-HoneN7BXuQ2OpNpZwJuly 18, 2010 9:26 PM

Interesting overall review. Would like more depth as to what would have Accident made it a true classic. the LOVEHK review is similar in saying that its a departure for Cheang, itd be interesting to find out how he made such a dramatic change of pace. With To's production influance, did that make him more of a 'meticulous' director? An interview with Cheang on this aspect would be interesting to watch/read. maybe on the dvd. Kudos for HK filmmaking but as ever, its the individual that stands out to me, in this case Cheang because he is an interesting director with lots of potential. Dog Bite Dog ended up a bit silly but it had some interestingly peculiar and odd artistic choices.