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Original Title:
Daai chek liu

Hong Kong 2003

Thriller, Drama, Action

Johnny To
Wai Ka-Fai

Andy Lau
Cecilia Cheung
Siu-Fai Cheung
Wong Chun
Karen Tong
Wen Zhong Yu
Lian Sheng Hou
Sheng Wei He
Meng Zhang

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Running on Karma

Story: Former monk Big (Andy Lau) does earn a living as a stripper and bodybuilder. One day he is arrested in a raid and he gets into the way of a parallel police operation whose target is a wanted indian killer. The killer escapes and young, unexperienced policewoman Yee (Cecilia Cheung) is assigned to the case. Big starts to help her out in her investigation after he has been released from prison. Yee doesn't know that Big can read the karma of living beings and what Big saw when he was concentrating on Yee did alarm him. So he teams up with her to hunt down the indian martial arts expert, and he actually can save her life more than once. Yet, his fight against fate seems to be hopeless.
Does Yee have to atone for her wrongs of a former life or can Big outwit fate in the end and save her life?

Review: If you think that "Running on Karma" is your average and typical Hong Kong Action flick then you will be disabused already after the first minutes. The movie stands out because of its atypical narration and some surprising twists. While at first you are made to believe that the movie is mainly about the murder case and the indian Yoga-Master, who can wedge himself in nearly every object of any size, we soon realize that this sort of introduction is only to bring together the two protagonists Big and Yee.
The first minutes of the movie remind us of thrillers like "Se7en" and the visuals are also quite similar and impressive. However, soon after that the style changes again. This is also what makes "Running on Karma" so hard and sometimes frustrating to watch. There is no consistency. It's almost as if different episodes of the same tv series had been put together. Luckily, the characters can manage to fill these gaps at the joins and give the film something of a whole in the end.

As we are already talking about the protagonists: Andy Lau cuts a grand figure as the bodybuilder Big - and this is literally so. The body suit Lau is wearing nearly the whole film through is well done and looks very authentically. The only thing that doesn't feel right is that some scenes place special emphasis on this detail in a way too exaggerated manner and so the question comes to mind why there had to be a body suit in the first place? Sure, it's quite amusing to see Andy Lau as a muscleman, but the reason remains unknown...
Nonetheless, Andy Lau gives his character a personality which we wouldn't have expected of the person Big at first. Later on, we even get to know more about his past and what it was he fled from, forcing him to leave the temple.
Cecilia Cheung's performance delivers nothing special. Her character is played a little bit too blunt, but hey! - she looks gorgeous...

Although the relationship between Big and Yee has its funny moments and even some romantic ones, there is also some serious talking about religion and karma. So the movie has also a message that is aimed right at the viewer. However it is coded and leaves room for different interpretations. For one thing it's great to see when a movie is actually trying to deliver a message, but doing so there is always the risk to leave the viewer with too many questions, if this message is lost in an ocean of possible interpretations. Unfortunately, that's just the cast with this movie, because the ending leaves the audience a little bit unsatisfied.

"Running on Karma" is everything but your average Hong Kong flick, as the movie has almost a comic-like style because of its over the top flying Kung Fu sequences in a modern city, musclebound Lau and the mystery- and religion aspect. This is unfortunate, because if the movie had been done more realistic it would have been more credible, as well. The mixture doesn't work out. There are too many parts, that do not stick together and especially the ending leaves us with a bitter taste.

If you are looking for a film that is a bit different - and you've got to see it in order to know what's meant by "different" - then you souldn't miss "Running on Karma". If one would have avoided some of the mentioned blemishes, this could have been a really good movie. Nevertheless, as it is the movie has still its upsides. And for some the opportunity to see Andy Lau as a muscleman will be reason enough to give this movie a chance.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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