Blu-ray Review: THROW DOWN, Get Back Up Again, Says Johnnie To

Louis Koo, Aaron Kwok, Cherrie Ying and Tony Leung Ka-fai star in a very personal Johnnie To film, now available on a splendid Criterion Collection Blu-ray.

Managing Editor; Dallas, Texas (@peteramartin)
Blu-ray Review: THROW DOWN, Get Back Up Again, Says Johnnie To

Even the losers get lucky sometimes.

Throw Down
The film is now available on Blu-ray and DVD The Criterion Collection.

Three films directed by Johnnie To were released in 2004: Breaking News, Yesterday Once More and Throw Down, a spiritual sequel of sorts to the previous year's Running on Karma.

Like that film, Throw Down was a more personal feature for the veteran filmmaker, and did not reap great commercial success. Some 17 years later, however, its appeal remains resonant.

Ten years ago, the astute Neils Matthijs considered the film for our site: "It's an essential link in understanding To's current trademark style. I went in with modest expectations, but was happily surprised by the level of wit and rhythm on display. ... It's a film with a pretty unique feel that might not speak to everyone. On the other hand, I'm sure most people will find something enjoyable here."

Watching the film for the first time on the Criterion Collection's splendid new Blu-ray, which features a 4K digital transfer undertaken by Fortune Star in 2010, I was struck by my own ignorance. I had heard it described as 'Johnnie To's judo film' and so, among a flurry of To crime films I was watching at the time, I pushed it down my list.

Throw Down is much more than a 'judo film.' That particular martial art was not even popular in Hong Kong at the time. Instead, To uses judo as just one element in his storytelling toolbox, using it to inform two of the three characters in particular, and also limiting the action almost entirely to unlikely judo matches on the streets of Hong Kong.

The narrative follows a former judo champion (Louis Koo), a young judo expert (Aaron Kwok), and an aspiring singer (Cherrie Ying) as they meet varying challenges in their lives over a short span of time. The former judo champion has retreated from his life into alcohol but also is battling another, life-changing obstacle; the young judo expert spends all his time challenging other judo experts to fight him; the aspiring singer keeps her spirits high, despite discouraging words about her prospects from just about everybody.

To moulds these individual stories into a cohesive whole through his use of light, shadows, fight choreography by Yuen Bun, and a counterintuitive musical score by Peter Kam. He's assisted by his usual crew in his Milkyway productions, including cinematographer Cheng Siu Keung and editor David Richardson.

A film that defies easy categorization, Throw Down is much more than it might appear to be, which is why I enjoyed watching all the special features that are included.

-- Johnnie To (2004) - 40 min - An outstanding interview with the director, in which he breaks down how the film came to be, his sometimes-difficult working relationships with the cast, and his artistic intentions.

-- Filling in Blanks (new) - 11 min - You Nai-hoi, one of three credited scriptwriters, explains how the film's original premise changed, and dives into To's working relationship with him on the script, which changed frequently during production.

-- Finding the Pulse (new) - 11 min - Composer Peter Kam talks about how he scores films, the benefits of having worked with To before, and how he endeavored to marry his musical ideas with the film.

-- Hidden in Plain Sight (new) - 21 min - Film scholar David Bordwell analyzes the film in the context of classic cinema, with an expert breakdown of themes and how To defies expected tropes.

-- Kicking Conventions (new) -13 min - Film scholar Caroline Guo expertly considers the film from the perspective of Hong Kong audiences.

-- Making of (2004) - 11 min - A more traditional extra, in which the director and leading cast members describe the film and their roles, respectively.

-- Original Theatrical Trailer - Does its best to market the film.

In conclusion: Very good film, much better than I expected, and a great Blu-ray. Highly recommended.

Yau doh lung fu bong

  • Johnnie To
  • Nai-Hoi Yau
  • Tin-Shing Yip
  • Kin-Yee Au
  • Louis Koo
  • Aaron Kwok
  • Cherrie Ying
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Aaron KwokCherrie YingCriterion CollectionHong KongJohnnie ToLouis KooTony Leung Ka-faiNai-Hoi YauTin-Shing YipKin-Yee AuDrama

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