Monday, April 09, 2007

[DVD] The Mission (Cheung Fo) (1999)

Don't Mess With The Best

Many have lauded The Mission as a classic, and I don't deny that. However, as the unofficially loose precursor to Johnnie To's recent movie Exiled, The Mission did seem quite dated, but you can be dead sure that many of Exiled's plot points, characterization and stylistic influences, get established as far back to this 1999 movie.

A triad leader, Brother Lung (Eddy Ko), survives an assassination attack, and to protect oneself, you'll get together an A-Team of your merry men as bodyguards, entrusting your life to the skill of their gunmanship. His brother Frank (Simon Yam) gathers this team, consisting of your day to day average working professionals - Curtis (Anthony Wong), Roy (Francis Ng, somehow credited as Francis Wong), Shin (Jackie Lui), Mike (Roy Cheung), and James (played by the ever reliable Lam Suet, sans pencil thin moustache). While they are barbers, gangsters, valets and technical experts, they are as deadly with a loaded gun, and coordinate extremely well as a team, only that they don't know it yet.

Naturally there are existing cliques amongst the five, and their rawness in working together resulted in a partial failure of their very fist mission - the assassins escape, we journey together in their mission to protect, and see first hand how they command respect of each other, and how they befriend one another. In other words, the practice of the triads code of brotherhood and camaraderie, in trusting each other too with their lives, as they seek an end to their mission, to return to their normal lives.

The Mission is a visual treat to action fans, though as I mentioned, the action itself might look dated. What's key here, and extremely well done, is the buildup. The anticipation of the prey, the feeling of the unknown, the entire setup for the kill. Shootouts occur in a narrow alleyway, and in an abandoned warehouse amongst others, but my favourite would be the one in the mall. It might be strange that as a protection detail, they chose to leave in the open, and when the crowd is absent. Perhaps it's easier to spot suspicious persons? One thing's for sure, to enjoy the suspense, forget about the why and the what if questions (Where are the security guards? Where are the police), but just soak in the moment. I can't get enough of those ultra cool poseur shots, and the ones at the shopping mall were probably the best in the movie.

The somewhat trippy, somehow happy theme track made it seem a little awkward accompanying the plenty suspenseful build up, but strangely it all worked, even when it's used for light hearted moments. Written by long time collaborator Yau Nai-hoi (who this year had made his directorial debut with Eye in the Sky), the tale is not a gun battle a minute story, but a look at the code of brotherhood amongst the men - do they follow orders to a T because their boss orders it, or do they have it inside them to do what their heart tells them? If you've watched Exiled, this conflict amongst the team already had its roots here, and watching The Mission in hindsight, you could never had guessed that this theme could alone could spin off into its own separate storyline in Exiled.

My advice would be to watch The Mission and Exiled as a double bill - fans out there would probably not get enough! I'm sure I will pop both the DVDs into my player soon for back to back viewings! If you, like me, have watched Exiled first, then this movie surely is not to be missed.

The Code 3 DVD by Mei Ah Entertainment isn't really fantastic, but I suppose for the price I paid, you don't come to expect a chock load of extras. You get a choice of either the Cantonese language track or the Mandarin track, in either Dolby Digital or Dolby Surround 5.1. However at times, the audio does seem erratic and at certain points in dialogue, the audio level will fluctuate inconsistently. Subtitles come in traditional or simplified Chinese, and English. I watched the DVD with the English subtitles on, and though it's fairly good, there were minor spelling typos spotted every now and then. A letterbox version, the visual transfer isn't pristine as well, as it can get quite noisy and sometimes turn out to be rather blocky.

As mentioned, it's a bare bones version, consisting of a Data Bank with a very scantily written synopsis which can also be found on the back cover of the DVD sleeve, and the Cast and Crew credits, which can be obtained from the actual end credits from the movie. The Data Bank comes in both English and Mandarin texts.

Besides the stylish theatrical trailer (1min 25sec) with no dialogue, but just the pulsating soundtrack from the movie, a chapter selection is included (9 chapters in total), and a "Best Buy" section featuring the trailer for Ringo Lam's movie "Victim" starring Lau Ching Wan and Tony Leung Ka Fai.

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