Friday, 1 January 2016

Film Review - 'Accident'

Ho Kwok-fai (Louis Koo), is an assassin with a very distinct style. Known to his partners-in-crime as 'Brain, his preferred method of fulfilling his contracts is to spend days, if not weeks, studying his target and exploring ways to manufacture an 'accidental' death, so that it can never be traced back to him. Working with a team of carefully chosen accomplices, Brain has developed a reputation, in certain circles, for his skill at arranging these untraceable assassinations - and, his services are often sought out, despite the high cost. His teams latest target, an infamous crime-boss, is successfully taken out in the film's opening moments, when a sequence of seemingly unrelated and entirely random events place him beneath a loose pane of glass just in time for it to be knocked loose - with predictable results.

Brain is a cold and clinical sort, as you might expect - a man whose perfectionism, and attention to detail, will not allow his team to get away even with something as seemingly innocuous as a carelessly discarded cigarette butt. But, he also seems to be a man prone to suspicion, if not outright distrust - even when it comes to his own team. He is the sort of man, for example, who is not above planting bugs in his own team's meeting place, and listening in on their conversations before he arrives.

With the successful assassination of such a high-profile target combined with his own natural suspicious nature, Brain feels the need to be particularly careful in their future dealings - though, he is still willing to take on one more job, in the form of the elderly father of a young man likely looking to claim a substantial insurance pay-out. Things don't go well with this latest job, though. The eldest member of the team, referred to as 'Uncle' by his accomplices, seems to be ill - displaying a memory-loss which could indicate early stages of dementia. The rain that their plan relies on refuses to come on time - and, when it finally does come, a poorly timed car-crash keeps another team-member (called 'Fatty', for obvious reasons) from getting into position in time. And, when things do seem to go right, Uncle finds himself confused, and forgets to play his own part in the plan. In spite of all of this, though, the team is still eventually able to successfully take out their target.

However, when Brain barely escapes from an out-of-control bus that goes on to kill one of his team so soon after the successful hit, he begins to suspect that he may have become the target of someone else working in the lucrative field of manufactured 'accidents'. When he goes on to discover that his apartment has been robbed on the same night, and that his secret stash of ill-gotten cash is gone, his suspicions seem to be confirmed.

So, from there, Brain begins to investigate on his own - following a trail which leads from the son of his latest target to the insurance agent responsible for overseeing his claim. It is a trail which also seems to implicate a surviving member of Brain's own team. As he investigates, everything that Brain sees and hears only seems to provide further confirmation that someone is trying to kill him.

But, is this all actually part of someone else's plot against him? And, if so, who is truly behind it? Or, alternatively, is this all just genuine accident and random coincidence? Is he just a man whose intense paranoia is slowly getting the better of him? These are the questions that drive much of the action in Accident.

Accident is certainly an impressive-looking film - stylishly shot and quickly establishing, and maintaining, a somber and serious tone throughout. It is the sort of film that is content to set a slow and steady pace as it explores these central questions - and, it's not going to hurry toward any sort of resolution, regardless of how much you might want it to. Honestly, it is almost too slow, at times. There were definitely points where Accident started to test my patience - and, where I wondered if there would actually be any sort of pay-off at the end. And, if so, whether it would actually be worth it. But, despite this, that central puzzle was still enough to hold my interest. I actually wanted to know - and, that was enough to keep me focused through the film's slower points.

The film's cast of characters aren't quite the same resounding success, though. Uncle and Fatty are both oddly likable, for people who willingly take part in bizarrely complicated murder-plots - though, just like with everyone else, we aren't given nearly enough of an insight into who either of them actually is to form any sort of genuine connection with them. The female member of the team, who isn't even given a name and who is listed simply as 'Woman' in the credits, makes about as much of an impression as you would expect, given the circumstances. Brain, himself, is given the greatest focus, obviously - and, we do at least get the revelation of a wife who died in a car-crash some time before the film begins (which, of course, is something he is convinced was not truly an accident). And, it is his stubborn insistence in believing that there must be something sinister behind the 'accidents' that have occurred in his life that drives the film. But, even here, we aren't really given anything beyond that.

The film is so wilfully reluctant to reveal the inner thoughts and feelings of any of its cast of characters that I could really only assume that it was a deliberate choice to keep things so frustratingly vague. It seems pretty clear that it is the film's central puzzle (whether or not Brain is actually right about his assumptions) that is meant to drive the film, rather than its characters. Oddly enough, though, this approach actually does seem to work in the film's favour. I quickly found myself so intrigued by this central puzzle that the fact that I didn't actually care much about any of the characters didn't really bother me.

There may be some questions about whether the pieces actually fit together, at the end - though, for my part, I was willing to give the film a little bit of leeway in this area. I was quite happy to suspend my disbelief a little bit, just to see where it was all headed. Most troubling for me, though, was the bizarre confluence of several random coincidences that made up the film's climax - up to, and including, the sudden onset of a solar eclipse. It just struck me as bizarre. I mean, that's just not how solar eclipses work, for one thing. They don't just happen whenever it's convenient - and, I'm not sure I can accept one being used as a plot device, like it was here. And, that's in addition to all of the other contrived coincidences that are sprung on the viewer during these final moments.

It is definitely disappointing to see a legitimately great film being undermined by such a disappointing resolution. But, even with the unsatisfying ending, there is still plenty to like about Accident. If the film's final moments had not been quite as dependent on random coincidence to wrap things up it would have been a lot better, over all. As it is, though, we are going to have to settle for a good film, rather than a great one.

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