Friday, July 16, 2010

Soi Cheang's ACCIDENT (2009)

(The dust and the blister packs on my recent DVDs is a telltale sign: I spend too much time in the theater and not enough in the comfort of my own home. In an attempt to catch up, I'll be posting some thoughts on these movies as time allows.)

Soi Cheang takes a step back from his Cat III wanderings in the blistering Dog Bite Dog and the ridiculous Shamo to tackle a far more commercially viable vehicle with Accident. Under Johnny To's wing as producer, Accident is a well made film that never takes the extra step to challenge the audience, unless you include the unbelievable circumstances that we are asked to swallow right up to the big finale. But in some respects, the over-the-top contrivances feed the movie's themes and ultimately the central character's paranoia that there is no such thing as an accident.

The opening sequence sets the stage and presents a progression of events that fall as as neatly as a line of dominoes, resulting in the bizarre death of a triad member. Through precision and timing, the film subtly reveals that this is no normal chain of events. On a tight busy street, a woman gets a flat tire a flies into distress mode, causing the gentleman behind her to take an alternate route. Not so coincidentally, he passes a truck that sloshes water on the driver as a large banner falls on the windshield of his car. Irritated, the driver jumps out of the car, yanks the banner down from where it is attached. A wire snaps from above, a window shatters, and a shower of broken broken glass pummel the man, killing him. The woman with the flat, the old man driving the truck, the man in charge of the banner and a calm observer of the eventual death are the discrete masterminds behind the assassination masquerading as a mishap.

Louis Koo plays, Brains, the leader of the pack with Stanley Fung, Lam Suet, and Michelle Ye filling out this foursome of unlikely guns for hire. Although each member no doubt has their own talent to bring to the team, it's Brain's and his need for perfection that gives them the knack for successfully pulling off the impossible. But Stanley Fung's aging character seems to be losing his edge to either typical forgetfulness or some form of dementia. This new weak link intersects with a new job that goes terribly awry. Brains, a sweaty mess of obsession and paranoia, is secretly convinced that the accident within the accident is...well, no accident. He connects their client with a mysterious banker who may or may not have ties to his past and the untimely death of his girlfriend.

Watching the story unfold is only surprising in the measure of control Cheang uses to direct Koo down a gently declining slope of mania. Great pains are taken to show, not tell, just how tweeky our hero is as he barely keeps a handle on his rationality. Koo is responsible for quietly carrying the film, with the rest of the cast, including Richie Ren who plays the banker, barely the get the screentime to perform. Invited to a half a dozen film festivals, Accident may usher in a new era for Soi Cheang. Although fully satisfying on one level, Accident disappoints only because Cheang has set people up to expect the unexpected, even if it is an overworked mess such as Dog Bites Dog or a horror head-scratcher such as the fantastically titled Horror Hotline: Big Head Monster.

Watch the trailer for Accident here.

1 comment:

YTSL said...

Hi Kathie --

FWIW, I consider "Accident" to be one of those movies that started off ever so promisingly but then ended disappointingly. Nonetheless, it still is an improvement on Soi Cheang's previous effort -- the really stupid "Shamo" (which I actually think should have gone completely for exploitation rather than settled for a tamer Category IIB treatment).

In general, it looks like the backers and mentors of Soi Cheang are trying to steer him towards the mainstream. A pity, I think -- since even if his early movies were perfect, they definitely had their memorable moments and sometimes actually touched the heart as well as just went for the visceral.