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A series of Accidents

September 17, 2009

The best cinematography I’ve seen so far at TIFF is at Soi Cheang’s “Accident” last Sunday night. It has to be emphasized how beautiful this film is, satuated in tones of omnious blues and luscious honey browns. Asian films always seem to excel in the use of colors and shadows to evoke a certain mood of sentimentality. There is an innate longing in the shots, a sensitivity, to the corners and cracks of life. There is a certain restraint in the way the story is told, and sometimes I think it can be traced back to the cultural background of the East, which is one that celebrates the restraints of your emotions and a preference for public graces and properness. It doesn’t mean those individuals experience any less emotions, of course, after all they are human. It just means that longing is celebrated and a glance can be threaded through years and generations, and in a strange way I have always loved that about asian cinema, perhaps there is a little bit of that in me.



The TIFF website described the plot so well that I retell it here in its original form: In a brilliantly executed early sequence, a seemingly mundane traffic jam transforms into a meticulously planned set piece. Innocuous little events, lined up like dominoes, gradually fall into place to build up to a deadly conclusion.

The mastermind behind the concept is a group of professional assassins, who commit murders by staging perfect crimes that look like unfortunate accidents. The brain of the operation is played by Louis Koo, who exercises superhuman like discipline and caution in the way he prepares and conducts each “accident.” If you ever get careless, he says to the rest, then one day we may be in an “accident.” Understandable – it’s an unpredictable profession that they are in, after all.

One day, the job that should run perfectly, does not. People die. And the Brain doesn’t believe that it is an accident, but an accident. This propagates a series of steps that led to his stalking of a seemingly ordinary insurance agent, Fong (Richie Jen). The pursuit is relentless and escalates into a heart-wrenching climax.

accident_03Left: Louis Koo;  Right: Fong Richie Jen

Both the main characters are played by mega movie stars of asia, and even though they barely share the screen together, the tension between them is tightly spung. Koo is riveting in his performance, showcasing the undercurrents of guilt hidden beneath that calm and unflinching exterior. Richie Jen is precise in his portrayal, leaving the audience in the mist of doubt until the very end. To say any more is difficult without spoiling the plot. “Accident” is a fine Hong Kong thriller – some have claimed it’s the best since “Infernal Affairs”. I haven’t seen much since IA, so I can’t fully weight in on that. However, personally I don’t think “Accident” is as riveting as “Infernal Affairs” –  its vision not as clear, the plot not as believable, and the two male leads, though good, are not great. But then again, not much can measure up to “Infernal Affairs” in my mind – especially the hollywood remake.

This is  a good film nonetheless though. The theme of “accident” is reverberated throughout the film, and the boundary between reality and imagination is blurred. Life is a series of accidents, really, and your every action forms a part of that domino effect. The film also touches on the philosophy of karma, and the saying “what goes around comes around” is evident.

If you are into the HK thriller genre, it’s a must see.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Monali permalink
    September 20, 2009 9:06 PM

    koo is hot. i agree: it was a beautiful movie. i definitely want to visit hong kong now. and i thought the director did a great job at the Q&A. but i’m a little less certain about the premise/plot. it was too close to both ‘Memento’ and ‘Final Destination’ for my liking. come on! choreography to kill?? talk about teen geek fantasies!

  2. September 28, 2009 8:46 AM

    I know what you mean about Asian films being able to capture stillness and restraint. I feel like most Western films are about movement, the arc of the story, what happens next, what do they do next? I think that it’s really hard to grasp as a Westerner sometimes, but it’s definitely very beautiful. I really want to see Infernal Affairs, especially since you recommend it, I’m glad to have found your blog, since Mr. Ebert recommended it!

    Don’t Be a Plum

  3. October 6, 2009 6:09 PM

    Intresting, this was actually a very great read! thanks

    Watch Movies Online Now

  4. January 5, 2010 6:09 PM

    “Accident” finally came out last week in France (and by “finally,” I mean that I feel pretty lucky to live in what’s basically the only non-Asian country where East Asian movies regularly see wide releases), and I got around to seeing it this morning. I couldn’t agree more about the cinematography, and it would easily be the most visually beautiful film I’ve seen in a while if I hadn’t seen Coppola’s “Tetro” just last night.
    The parallel with “Infernal Affairs” is an interesting one, especially once you reach the second half of the movie and get drawn into Brain’s mind. I found Louis Koo really convincing as Brain–in his muteness and moodiness, he sometimes seemed to be channeling Tony Leung’s Chan. Jen was fine, if constrained by the limitations of his role (more an extended cameo, really). Hard to top Tony Leung and Andy Lau, though.
    As for the plot, if it had its weaknesses (the resolution makes use of quite a few convenient coincidences), I found the “eclipse” scene breathtaking, and its aftermath very poetic.
    Not quite “Infernal Affairs,” but a very good Hong Kong thriller nonetheless.

    Quick aside: as is almost always the case when I go see Asian movies, a couple people left the theater about halfway through the movie. My guess is that they’d gone in without realizing that this wasn’t a French or American thriller, and that the pacing and atmosphere would therefore be different. I still remember seeing “The Taste of Tea” with my girlfriend in a tiny theater: there were ten people inside when the movie started, and only the two of us remained until the end. People would get up to leave and we would look at each other, puzzled. “Maybe they didn’t expect the movie to be this funny,” she ventured towards the end.

    “But then again, not much can measure up to “Infernal Affairs” in my mind – especially the hollywood remake.”

    Hear, hear. Oh so much.

    Grace: I do so enjoy your epic comments…even though you leave them so few and far in between :)

  5. January 6, 2010 6:30 PM

    Grace: I do so enjoy your epic comments…even though you leave them so few and far in between :)

    After talking about it yesterday, I felt the urge to watch “Infernal Affairs” again. I’d never noticed before, but it’s amazing how self-aware that movie is. For instance, right before the final confrontation between Lau and Chan, I thought about how much of the movie is set on rooftops, when its two main characters rarely see the light of day. A minute later, Lau actually said, “Do you think all moles like rooftops?” prompting Chan to say that he wasn’t afraid of the light. Same thing with basically every discussion Lau has with his fiancée. I find it fascinating that, even though the female characters (Lau’s fiancée, Chan’s shrink, his ex-girlfriend) have very limited roles, they are the only ones who are able to see through the men’s disguise. Even if, like Lau’s fiancée, they don’t necessarily understand (or rather, don’t want to understand) what it is they see.

    My DVD comes with an alternative ending (spoilers ahead, I guess), in which Lau gets arrested as soon as he exits the elevator, the movie fading to black as he leaves the building, handcuffed and flanked by his former colleagues. I’m glad they didn’t go for such an easy resolution, as the original ending is nothing short of magnificent. Final close-up of Lau’s face. Second half of the Buddha quote about eternal hell. Could you imagine better poetic justice?

    Grace: poetic justice, yes. I’m severely sleep-deprived and that’s all I can manage right now. More later.

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