When they say to kill someone and make it look like an accident, they probably don’t expect people to go through this much work.
Wow, they really wanted this movie to be under 87 minutes. The credits are barely over and we see a person go headfirst through a windshield. Her wristwatch falls to the ground and then the car catches fire. And that’s it.
It is the middle of the day and a man is driving down a city street. The woman driving in front of him gets a flat tire and stops right there. The man gets out to see what is wrong and…instead of helping, tells her to move to the side instead of blocking the road. She says that she has to make a phone call first and…then does not move her car.
So the man gets back in his car and barely squeezes past her car. He gets a bit of a ways down the street until a water truck blocks his way. They try to turn past each other, but the man’s car gets pelted with water. And part of a banner falls on his windshield. Unable to keep driving, the man yells at someone on the sidewalk to remove the banner from the car. The guy on the sidewalk says that it is hanging from upstairs…which…he could have still tried to move it off the car.
So, the man gets out and…instead of moving the banner to the side, yanks it to the ground. Unfortunately for him, this causes…something to smash into the glass panel above him and the glass comes falling on top of him, cutting him badly. He falls to the ground, bleeding everywhere.
As the previously unhelpful man calls the police, dozens of people crowd around to see what happened. An ambulance tries to come, but the woman with the flat tire is still blocking the street. The police have to yell at her to move, but now her car won’t start, so they have to push it. Finally, the ambulance arrives, but it is too late. The man is dead.
One man who had been watching among the crowd turns and walks away. The he sees the driver of the water truck driving away and he picks up the cigarette that the driver tossed out. Then he calls a man called…erm…Fatty?…He calls a man whom I am calling Lam Suet, telling him to collect the payment.
Lam Suet walks through a parking garage carrying some balloons. He lets one go right so that it blocks much of the view of a security camera. The client drives up to the car in a parking space that Lam Suet told him about, tosses an envelope with the payment into the car, and drives off. Some time later, Lam Suet goes over to the car and gets the money.
The woman with the flat tire and the water truck driver are in a room watching the news report about the accident. The movie calls them the Woman and Uncle, but I will call them Michelle and Stanley instead. Anyways, it turns out that the victim was a triad gang leader named Lee Cheong Heng, so the Organized Crime and Triad Bureau has taken over the investigation. Stanley switches channels to various reports until Michelle unplugs the TV and asks him if he is worried.
They start a game of ping pong. Stanley says that it will have to be ruled an accident, but Michelle brings up the cigarette that he had left at the scene. Did she see that too? Well, whatever. Stanley doesn’t care because he is innocent. Technically, he was just driving a truck, sure. Also, he has no arrest record. Michelle mentions that they have never been caught because they left no loose ends, such as a cigarette. She tells him that if the police track them down then that may uncover all of their previous jobs. Stanley starts to walk off, but Michelle says that he might get arrested if he returns to the scene. She also says that she picked it up, and that the Brain must not find out…but…it she didn’t pick up the cigarette. So they go back to playing ping pong.
Meanwhile, Lam Suet arrives with the money. He wants to play too, so Stanley sits out. He complains that he is the most vulnerable to arrest as he contacts the clients and collects the money; so it is unfair that they are keeping secrets from him. So Michelle tells Stanley to tell Lam Suet about the cigarette.
And all this time, the Brain…or Louis…is sitting outside somewhere listening in on the whole conversation. So, even if he had not known about the cigarette before, he would now.
Louis comes in and sits down to smoke a cigarette. After a bit of back and forth, Louis takes out the aforementioned cigarette. Yep, he is ticked off, especially at Stanley. He wonders whether the four of them should split up permanently. Lam Suet insists that this is not such a big deal to end their operation, but Stanley gets up and goes pacing outside. As Louis reminds everyone that he is the boss, Stanley comes back inside and declares that he is quitting smoking. Okay. Louis seems satisfied, but reminds them that there is always someone watching, that there are others in this industry (the make it look like an accident industry?), and that one mistake could get them all killed.
Well, the meeting is over and Louis goes about his day through Hong Kong. He takes a rather long journey home. The subway, a bus, and then a taxi. He eventually makes his way to his apartment, looking over his shoulder before he opens the door and removes the “sign that no one has broken in” leaf that he had stuck in there.
Louis plays the CD that I am guessing he bought after the meeting and puts his cut of the day’s earnings into his safe.
Then Louis goes to his bed where his wife is asleep and…wait…he has not taken off his jacket or his SHOES! Contract Killer whatever, he tracked his shoes all over the apartment to the bedroom? This is a bad person, people. He lies down on the bed without having taken them off? Well, his wife wakes up and…wait, what about the leaf in the door? Has she been inside all day? Anyways, she asks how he is. He doesn’t answer, but he hugs her instead.
And then, I guess that they have sex? Probably. I don’t know. It is basically this shot for fifteen seconds.
Louis wakes up alone…in more bed-appropriate clothes. He gets up and stops the CD when it seems to be skipping or something in the CD player. A metaphor? Or was that part with the wife a dream?
Louis goes to the site of that fatal car crash from the beginning of the movie. There is a marker with the text of a Buddhist chant to counter the negative energy of that crash. Louis prays to it. Oh, wait a minute. That was his wife at the start of the movie. So…was that actually an accident? So that sequence with her a few minutes ago was a dream and he was not actually going to bed with his shoes and jacket on. Ai!
Enter a new character. A man named Wong is standing by a little sidewalk construction area when he gets a call from Lam Suet. Lam Suet gives him instructions on where to go and what to do. He has Wong get a bag out of a trash can and then put all of his stuff, including his phone, in the bag. He then is to go into a building and leave the bag outside of the elevator before using the elevator.
But Lam Suet does not go to take the bag, instead getting on a bus that Louis is on. Louis is eating a sandwich and has one for Lam Suet as well. He opens a book and finds a photograph of someone inside. He then takes out a wallet and looks through the pictures. It is Wong’s wallet. The man in the photograph looks to be his father. I guess that Louis took the bag. So Wong is the client and Wong’s father is…the target.
The evening approaches and the Accident Crew observe Wong pushing his father in a wheelchair through the city, particularly across a set of tram tracks. Lam Suet wonders what the motive is, but Louis says that it is none of their concern. They watch as Wong takes his father’s key, opens the door to a pawn shop, and then lifts his father out of the chair and into the shop. I guess that the entrance is not wheelchair accessible.
Despite his previous comments, Louis tails the client to a restaurant, where he meets with another man. Louis cannot hear them, but they appear to be talking business of some sort. Who is that man?
The crew wander around the route that Wong and his father took. They focus on the tram tracks. Can they electrocute the elder Wong on the tracks? They are talking over a group comms while out in the open, which seems a little risky in terms of exposure or someone listening in, but whatever.
Eventually, they go back to some office building with a cobbled-together model area of the killzone and some book about…the Tram’s design? Man…if this movie was meant to be a love letter to Hong Kong’s tramway system…
They think about it long enough that Michelle goes out to get some food. She gives a hotdog for Louis, but he gives it to Lam Suet. Lam Suet, Michelle, and Stanley all trade looks. Is there a particular significance to Louis not wanting it? Screw it, whatever. Time to eat.
Finally, they come up with a plan that…I am not quite sure of the details, but it involves flying a kite in the rain. I mean…I know that you CAN fly a kite in the rain, but…why would you if not for the purposes of electrocution? That seems super suspicious. Regardless, Louis has the others practice their Ben Franklin routines. Lam Suet in particular is not having fun. Michelle seems to have a good grasp of it, though. So I guess that she will be the kite-flier.
It is night. It is not raining yet, but rain is predicted. So they wait. And wait. And Wong leaves the pawn shop with his father. Still no rain. So Louis says over comms to abort. Just then, it starts raining. A few seconds too late.
Another night. Nope. A third night. Oh, it is raining. But a car accident prevents Lam Suet from getting in position. Nope.
A fourth night. Still no rain, but they are getting ready anyways. Lam Suet is getting prepared and notices Stanley smoking. He reminds Stanley that he quit, but Stanley appears to have no memory of that. Lam Suet says to the others that something is wrong with him, but Stanley tells him to mind his words. Michelle also expresses concerns, but Stanley repeats that he is fine. Michelle asks again whether they should proceed.
It starts to rain. Louis asks Stanley if he can do his part. Stanley says yes. Louis asks again and Stanley says yes again. Louis sees Wong and his father leaving the pawn shop. Action. Stanley gets his balloons. Lam Suet puts on his raincoat and starts biking. Michelle grabs her raincoat and starts flying her kite, looking not the least bit suspicious.
Michelle gets the kite wrapped around the tram cable and then cuts the kite wire so that it falls onto the track.
Lam Suet is on his bike when he sees that Stanley did not release the balloons in front of the camera. Stanley is confused. What balloons? Lam Suet worries that the cameras will spot him, but Louis says that there is too much rain for anyone to identify him through the footage.
So Lam Suet rides his bike past Wong and his father, knocking over Wong. His father reaches out to him. Wong almost grabs his hand, but then realizes what is going on. He pulls back his hand, letting his father’s wheelchair fall to the tracks.
The wire hits the Elder Wong on his shoulder and electrocutes him. He screams and screams until he catches fire. The kite also catches fire and falls to the ground. Wong looks on in terror. Is this really what he asked for?
Louis walks off, wanting to confront Stanley about his absentmindedness. He bumps into another man, who apologizes.
Suddenly, a bus comes speeding towards Louis from behind. He runs and runs, and manages to only get clipped. But the bus keeps going, running over someone, knocking Lam Suet off his bike, and then pinning a car against a fence.
Louis goes to see Lam Suet, who had been flung all the way across the street. Louis rummages through his pockets, taking his wallet and phone. Lam Suet asks him if this was an accident. It is only then that Louis looks at his face. He is dying. He is dead. Louis removes Lam Suet’s earpiece and walks off.
Louis returns home to find that it was broken into. And there are cops all around. The safe was broken into and pretty much everything inside was taken. Oh, also, his name is Ho Kwok-fai. Whatever that ID card says, Louis. The cops question him for a bit, but just as a victim and potential witness. Apparently, they found nothing suspicious regarding what was left. And it seems that a few other apartments in the complex were broken into.
Yeah…yeah…well, Louis looks at the only thing left from the safe. It is his late wife’s watch which broke when she died. Did the thief leave it because it is busted? No. It is a message. He knows the answer to Lam Suet’s last question: no. This was no accident.
While this movie is not directed by Johnnie To, he did produce it. And I am guessing that he was drawn to the idea of it. It certainly is a premise that he would like it. Why didn’t Nolan make a movie about this? Probably because it is tight and has no time for the long speeches about movie’s themes or whatever. Or maybe because it would come across like a rip-off of those Final Destination movies, except for there actually being people secretly causing those fatalities instead of the manifestation of death. Or something.
It is still pretty scary a thought; that any fatal accident could actually be the result of killers in the area, as farfetched as it may be. That said, at least this group of people try to keep the fatalities down to the specific target, which cannot be said about possible competitors. The movie is pretty big on the procedure, regarding the particular actions or reactions. Though sometimes we get hints of what Louis is thinking, his characterization is mostly through what he does. We also get various looks and exchanges to show how little the main characters trust each other. The movie gives the viewers only as much information as it wants to at any time. Sometimes it is not enough to figure out what is going on or why until much later. Sometimes the information is deceptive. The operations are not exactly flawless in their planning. All of the conversations over comms? In public? The balloons and the kite? And what of all of the variables? They just need the various elements to be things that people can dismiss as irrelevant. But what if you can’t dismiss something? What if everything is possibly in play?
There is something to be said that in the context of this movie, making a murder look like an accident cannot be staged after the fact; it has to be integral to the…execution. This is because Hong Kong is a bustling city. People are everywhere all of the time. There are witnesses all over the place. But that also means that the killers can slip through as just faces in the crowd. Unnoticed. Because there are too many people, and no one sees them. They just disappear in plain sight.
The lives led by these people are rather lonely. Lonely and paranoid. I have been referring to the characters by their actor names just so that I don’t need to refer to Lam Suet’s character as Fatty for the entire time. But it is not a conceit of the movie that the main characters don’t have names, as Louis Koo’s character is named Ho Kwok-fai. It is just that they don’t know each other’s names, just nicknames. And I am not even sure if Michelle Ye’s “Woman” is even called “Woman” in the movie aside from the credits. When not at a work, Louis wanders around the city by himself. And then he takes a very convoluted commute home, just to shake any possible tail. He has a safe full of money, but he doesn’t do anything with the money. It just sits there until it gets stolen. In a concrete ocean of people, he knows no one and no one knows him.
So, Louis lives a rather unhappy life with money that he barely spends. He does not seem to really get satisfaction from his work of getting people killed. And, by design, he does not seem to have any connection to anyone, including his crew. But, surely with his smarts, he could be doing something else. Something that perhaps pays a little less, but does not require evading the cops. So why does he do what he does?
It is what Louis does because it is what he does. It has taken over his life and how he sees the world. It is not clear whether his wife was still alive when he started his kill work…or whether the car crash was really actually a murder. If we say that the answer to both was no, then perhaps he got into this line of work in an attempt to regain control over the consequences of the cosmos. He is haunted by a death that seemingly had no reason to happen, or was the fault of his wife or who knows. But now he can become the consequence of the cosmos; putting together a scenario that leads to someone’s death, but that no one outside of the know could ever figure out. It is as if he is finding meaning in his wife’s accidental death through the secretly deliberate deaths of others. To push back the powerlessness that he must have felt when she died. Now he has the power.
Of course, that is not true. Louis has to be extremely careful to avoid the suspicion of law enforcement. He also has to steer clear of potential rivals, who could be anywhere and anyone. He cannot even really trust his own co-workers, who could double cross him or, in the case of Stanley, accidentally alert the cops to all of them. Is this all justified? What he may see as discipline and meticulousness can come across as paranoia. Yet…could it all be justified? After that bus that almost killed him and did kill Lam Suet? And the break-in at his apartment? Who was the man who bumped into him before the bus crash? Could it just unfortunate coincidence? I mean, the rain could be a cover for all sorts of thievery as well as causing a bus driver to lose control. Is this all cosmic punishment for trying to mimic the cosmos? Or has some other mastermind broken through all of his careful planning and has been his own tactics against him? ooOOOOoo
It kind of plays into people’s desire to play detective. To turn every small moment into a part of a conspiracy, to connect dots to fit a pattern, to spin meaning and nefarious purpose out of the meaningless, to project one’s own sins onto others, to justify one’s behavior by insisting that other’s would do worse. That has led people to do heinous things in real life…what about here, where the protagonist has already done heinous things? Could someone be out for revenge? Or is it all in his head?
Interesting, a little disturbing, and a rather quick sit. This is a good one.
WTF ASIA 188: Stand By Me (South Korea: 2018, approx. 91 minutes)
WTF ASIA 189: The Cup (India…sort of: 1999, approx. 94 minutes)