Accident (Hong Kong, 2009)

Stamped with the Milky Way seal of approval and coming from a director on a hot streak of strange, brutal but unique films, Accident sets to work with confident and polished story-telling, a couple of Johnnie To regulars rounding out the cast and nods to a certain Francis Ford Coppola masterwork. With another shift into maturity for it’s leading man Louis Koo and all the ingredients are in place for another slickly-dark thriller in the ever-blossoming production company’s canon…

Brain (Koo) is a hit-man-for-hire who, along with his crew, consisting of the nameless Woman (Michelle Ye), Uncle played by veteran Stanley Fung and Fatty (another selfless performance from the ever-brilliant Lam Suet) specialize in planned-out, elaborate assassinations made to look like every-day accidents. After a small mistake is made on a certain job, things start to unravel within the crew as our characters begin to question the job, each other and with the adding of a mysterious businessman brought to life by Richie Jen, professional and personal lives start to complicate for everyone involved.

With only shades of the brutality that director Soi Cheang injected into his previous two films, Dog Bite Dog (2006) and manga-adaption Shamo (2007), not to mention a constant stream of rewarding set-up/pay-off set-pieces in form of the numerous assassinations Brain and his crew plot and play out, you’d be forgiven in thinking that the film was a breathless action-thriller. However, Accident actually takes time in cooking up a story that whilst in spots is blackly-comic and adrenaline-pumping, it’s main goal is to be captivating with it’s paranoia-drenched dilemma plaguing it’s main protagonist. This comes to light particularly around the half way mark when everything begins to fall down around the once predatory and sure-of-himself Brain and he begins to question what is real, what is a facade and if certain people are who they look to be from the outside. It’s when this surveillance-heavy conspiracy angle comes to head that we have visual and narrative flourishes reminiscent of The Conversation (1974): one man’s desperate quest to prove something correct; to others, but most importantly to himself. This homage delivers a maddening look into the obsession of Brain with Fong (Richie Jen) when he finds himself drawing  parallels from his life to Fong’s, thereby setting up the inevitable emotional connection to his character.

In the form of another emotional angle comes Brain’s clear dichotomy of what to do when fellow assassin and the oldest member of the crew, Uncle begins to lose his mind. He clearly wants to help this man get better but at the same time is frustrated with his inability to keep doing his job efficiently- this angle is what drives to tear the group of hit-men apart, among other things which come to light later in the film. Backed with guilt and trust issues due to the death of a loved one Brain is played with sophistication and low-key emotion by Hong Kong idol Koo, arguably continuing a breakthrough stride as a mature performer since appearing in fellow Milky Way productions, Election (2005) and Election 2 (2006). While the rest of the cast puts in solid performances, this really is Koo’s show.

Where Accident really hits it’s stride is it’s script. Filmed with the same neo-noir touches seen in other To releases, it’s a perfect canvas to paint on the high-concept action ideas that have become a trademark of the director’s productions. Aside from the opening set-piece involving a horrifying falling hail of glass, another stand out scene culminates the pouring rain, an electrified kite and a bus crash into arguably the action highlight of the film. Watching all these planned-elements and characters coming together to produce one outcome really is a marvel to see and one of the drawing points of the film; along with it’s very satisfying pace it’s fair to say though whilst tension builds throughout and particularly during the back end of the film, its final 15 minutes somewhat mar the finished product. Confusing and a tad too convenient from a film rammed with well thought out and believable coincidences, it’s final conclusion, although staged well, fails to act as the cherry on the cake but rather comes off as the filmmakers attempting to beat out all that came before it – one more dash at pulling off something smart and shocking when theoretically, bringing the film to a more natural and organic conclusion would have been more gratifying for the audience.

Minor slip-ups aside, Accident is the fastest 80 minutes to come out of Hong Kong in recent years. It’s an assured, mature film that boasts a script which only the vastly-talented Szeto Kam-Yuen could have penned and continues the golden streak Johnnie To’s famed production company has been blessed with since it’s inception. Watch it with a friend, you wouldn’t want to choke on your popcorn…



Tom Kent-Williams is a writer, reviewer and co-host at the Podcast On Fire Network currently residing in Birmingham, England. He has been in love with Asian cinema since seeing Akira for the first time and has a slight man-crush on Chow Yun-fat. Hong Kong cinema floats his boat big time, along with synthpop, classic gaming and cups of tea in large mugs.