Want to play a game of Kick the Can?
A pair of men named Tai and Cat walk go to an apartment and ask for a man named Wo. The woman who lives there says that they have the wrong house, but Tai says that they will just wait for him.
The woman goes to check on her baby and sees the two men standing outside.
There is another knock on the door. And then another. And more aggressive knock. She goes back to the door and finds another pair of men, Blaze and Fat. They are also looking for Wo. She says that there is no such person and shuts the door.
As the woman looks on nervously, the two pairs of men loiter around outside, sometimes eyeing each other. Finally, Tai speaks, asking Blaze if they can settle this. Blaze says that Wo should have never returned, and now he has to die. Tai insists that he and Wo grew up together and joined the gang together. Blaze says that he has no choice.
Aaaaand here comes the man who does not live there.
Wo goes into the apartment and the four men walk towards him. And…here comes a pair of cops, looking very intimidating. Blaze and Tai follow Wo into the apartment as Cat and Fat stay outside staring down the cops.
The woman squeezes a rosary and whispers the Lord’s Prayer as the three men come in.
Wo goes pulls out a gun from a drawer and…uh…a gunfight ensues…sort of.
The cops outside try to intervene, but Cat and Fat keep them at bay. Fat tells them that Boss Fay ordered the hit. So, one of the cops, Sergeant Shan, actually calls up Boss Fay, telling him that what is going on is none of his business, as his job will be done in three days when Portugal hands over Macau to the People’s Republic of China; so, could he tell his men to stop shooting at him? And…Boss Fay does.
It turns out that all of the furniture is in Wo’s truck. So, the guys take the stuff inside and help set up, event trying to patch up the…um…holes. The four men stay for hours, fixing up the place and preparing dinner.
The six of them eat. The men seem to behave like this was just four guys helping their friend and his wife set up their new home. Oh, haha, Blaze got a bullet in his tea. Even Wo’s wife cannot help but laugh at that.
And now they are taking a group picture?
Eventually, the small talk ends. Blaze says that he has to kill Wo and asks for his last wish. Ignoring Tai’s insistence that no one will kill him, Wo replies that his family needs money. They ask him why he returned. He tells them that he was tired of being on the road, he wanted a home. Blaze says that he could have settled down somewhere else. But now he has to die for attempting to kill Boss Fay. Tai admits that he was also involved in the attempt, so he is obligated to protect Wo. Blaze ignores him, and asks Wo how much time he needs. Wo tells him to wait for tomorrow.
Wo goes to his wife…who…um…downs several shots of some alcohol. He goes over to his son, tells him to be a good boy, and lies down next to him.
It appears that the four guests are staying overnight. Wo’s wife…erm…her name is Jin. Jin gives blankets to the guys and then asks Blaze to spare their lives. Then she goes to bed with her husband and son. Meanwhile, Blaze has Fat take first shift awake while Tai tells Cat to keep an eye on Fat.
Blaze is about to go to sleep when he gets a phone call from Boss Fay. Not yet, but he will do it. He had better. Boss Fay tells Blaze that this is the last time that he will call.
A man named Uncle Fortune welcomes Boss Fay to Macau. Unfortunately, Uncle Fortune comes with bad news: Boss Keung does not accept Boss Fay’s terms for…something or other. So, Boss Fay tells Uncle Fortune to take care of him.
The next day, the five men go into Wo’s truck. Wo sits in the back, looking like a prisoner.
The guys go to a hotel and ask for a guy named Jeff. And it seems like Jeff is already ready for them, with jobs lined up. He brings them into one room, closes the door, and then sneaks Uncle Fortune into a different room before returning to see the guys.
Jeff starts talking about a new regime and old scores, but Blaze tells him to speed things up. So, Jeff gives them three targets. The money seems good, but they are all in hard-to-reach places. He also provides a cocaine deal. Blaze asks for a quick job in Macau. Going back into his drawn-out epic mode, Jeff tells them about a convoy transporting gold belonging to corrupt government officials. They could rob it tomorrow, and no one could arrest them for it. Jeff would find them a buyer. He leaves the room for a bit so they can work things out, and so that he can go talk to Uncle Fortune.
Wo seems interested in the gold robbery, but Blaze says that they cannot wait until tomorrow. Additionally, Tai says that they have no real way of determining whether the gold is even real.
Jeff comes back from his super-secret other client with a brand-new target: Boss Keung, Macau’s most powerful gangster as of late. Tonight, at a restaurant. The money is bigger than with the other deals, since the risk is higher. Higher than infiltrating a prison to kill one of the other guys?
In any case, Blaze choses that one, and Wo accepts. It is decided. Jeff walks out. Wo thanks him and the two embrace as the other guys ogle the woman across the way, I guess to just make it clear to the audience that they are not gay.
Wo goes back into the room to address the others individually. He thanks Fat and Cat. He tells Tai that there is no debt owed as long as his wife gets the money. Tai jokingly says that he does what he pleases. Well, okay. Finally, Wo goes to Blaze and tells him that they will settle the score after the job is done.
It is unclear whether the quintet know that it was Boss Fay who put out this hit on Boss Keung. Heck, Jeff might not have known. And Boss Fay probably has no idea that Wo is still alive, let alone in on the assignment. But it will be revealed that night, when the assignment goes chaotically wrong.
A sort of Western movie transplanted to Asia at the turn of the millennium, this movie does not really try to do much new, just do it well. And, in my opinion, it does it very well. This is…well…a masculine movie. At least in the East Asian sense. It is about being tough and cool, but also loyal, honorable, and respectful towards one’s sworn brothers. The story and characterizations are not quite as important as the themes and the atmosphere. So, there is a lot of narrative shorthand and the dialog can be unhelpfully economical at times. For example, it is never really stated why Wo and Tai tried to kill Boss Fay other than because he is a jerk. And whether Blaze agrees or not, his sworn loyalty to Fay outweighs his feelings towards either Tai or Wo. But, since everything in this movie is rather familiar, it is not too difficult to follow as long as one does not bog down oneself trying to work out the nitty gritty of why certain people do certain things or refrain from doing certain things.
Well, that is only partially true. One thing that makes this movie stand out for me is the presentation of the action scenes. Johnnie To sometimes really likes to add stylistic flourishes to his movies, and this one has some real flourishes. While there are action movies that have received criticism for having action scenes that are hard to follow, this movie seems to go out of its way to be difficult. Sometimes, this is done by blocking the faces of characters, other times by being vague about the geography of the setpiece. Sometimes it is just being really dark. And on a couple of occasions, the gunfights look like an art piece. See that thing that looks like it is hanging from the ceiling? That is a door, spinning around from being shot so many times.
Apart from sharing many cast members, it is this style that makes many see this movie as a spiritual sequel to Johnnie To’s The Mission, though this one is a bit more…sentimental. Like that movie, it sometimes displays the gunfight sequences like a series of near static pictures. Other times, though, it has them be like moving paintings, somewhat similar to the way that Zhang Yimou turned swordfighting into a moving painting. Not a ballet of bullets like John Woo, but a waltz of…Walthers there are probably no Walthers. This stylistic choice can render the sequences incoherent and pretentious, but that is part of the charm. It is not so much showing who is shooting at whom, but more like showing these men being in their element. Unlike the messiness of something like Free Fire, these characters know what they are doing, even if the viewer might not. Sometimes, even the music during the shootouts seems peaceful; not in an ironic sense, but in a way to show that they are not really hyped up for this. This is their duty. This is what they do. This is what they have to do. And they do it well. They are too cool to be hyped up.
There is nothing much else that I can say. Is this a great movie? No. But it kicks ass…and cans.
WTF ASIA 232: Han Gong-ju (South Korea: 2014, approx. 113 minutes)
WTF ASIA 232: Ishqiya (India: 2010, approx. 115 minutes)