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Johnnie To has really made a name for himself in the last decade or so, creating some of the best Hong Kong movies around. Although he has made movies since the early 80's, it's arguably not until 20+ films and Mission, The (1999) that he really blossomed and showed his real possibilities as a master of neo-noir. From then on, he hasn't really let go, with his output in the last 5 years really reaching the pinnacle of coolness.
Francis Costello (the french music veteran super star Johnny Hallyday) comes to Macau after his daughter's husband and two young sons have been wiped out in a hit. A stranger in a strange land, he enlists the help of 3 professional killers (headed by Anthony Wong) to seek revenge. Soon, they find out that the man who ordered the hit is none other than their own boss (Simon Yam). Where will their loyalty lie, and who is Francis really? He's a Chef now at a famous Parisian restaurant, but he obviously has a past closer to the men he hired.
This is a wonderful film that captures all the elements that made To a household name in recent years. The film is gorgeous, with incredible lighting that seems to only be doable in Macau (the Las Vegas of Asia), with its Portuguese-inspired architecture, beautiful churches and cathedrals, narrow streets and leveled staircases, and the over saturated neon lights of the nearby casinos. Every frame is carefully composed, with great depth of field and angles. This is To at his best. There is also a very innovative gun fight that takes place in a landfill where the protagonists haul large balls of recycled paper as shields. This scene is simply mesmerizing, and you can see some of it in the trailer.
Cast-wise, all Chinese actors are regulars in To's universe, and know exactly what's needed of them. They exude cool and machismo to the 9's. The odd-ball is of course French superstar Hallyday. He manages to perform decently in here, even in the action scenes he's involved in, but i couldn't help but be distracted by the way he looks. This may be just me, but i haven't really seen him in years, and the man got a lot of surgery done. A lot! He looks like such a caricature of himself nowadays that i found it hard to take him seriously. This may be unfair as his overall performance is not bad at all otherwise. The writing overall is good and stays to the core themes dear to To. There are however a a few blemishes with some twists and turns in the story i simply couldn't believe.
This is a great new entry in To's catalog of key films. He captures again this underworld of professional killers in the beautiful surroundings of Macau. The film is slow, and very moody, but manages to still fly by with several top action scenes. This is highly recommended.
- Laurent Hasson