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The Mission - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Cheung fo

Hong Kong 1999

Crime, Action

Johnnie To

Anthony Wong
Francis Ng
Lam Suet
Roy Cheung
Jackie Liu
Simon Yam
Eddy Ko
Wang Tian-lin
Elaine Eca Da Silva

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The Mission

Story: Gangster boss Lung (Eddy Ko) is betrayed by someone within the own ranks who wants to see him dead. While Lung's brother Frank (Simon Yam) is investigating the failed assassination attempt in order to find the culprit a unit of professional killers and bodyguards is put together to take care of Lung's safety until the matter has been settled.
This five-man-squad is led by Curtis (Anthony Wong) who is working as a barber on the side. His men are Roy (Francis Ng), who owns a bar, the weapon expert James (Suet Lam), Mike (Roy Cheung), who is an excellent marksman, and rookie Shin (Jackie Liu). The relationships between the five men are always grounded on their professionalism, even though there is some friction every now and then, and their inviolable code is the reason why they are very successful in their field.
But the bodyguards' code of honor as well as their sense for brotherhood are put to a harsh test at the end...

Review: The directing team Johnnie To and Wai Ka-Fai isn't easily seperated one might think. Together they have been responsible for some nice movies like "Fulltime Killer" or "Needing You". But there are also a lot of average movies among the works of those two filmmakers. Every now and then the two take a seat on the directing chair alone. Especially Johnnie To proves with his "The Mission", which came out in the same year as "Running out of Time", that he can do even better films when working alone.
With his almost brilliant sense of style, cinematography as well as the subtle character elaboration/depiction he elevates Hong Kong cinema to new heights.

The Mission - Film Screenshot 11

The plot of "The Mission" doesn't seem to amount to much. We have seen all of it before and more than anything else we are very familiar with the gangster world in which To's film takes place. But the director manages to breathe new life into this world. The quiet, tense atmosphere that he conveys always gives us the feeling of sitting on a powder keg that might blow up any second. You never know what to expect next. A great pacing and well interspersed action sequences will make you sit on the edge of your seat in excitment until the very end.

Anyway, there is also a lot going on when it comes to the characters. Our "heroes" are men of few words but one glance or gesture can tell a lot about them. Furthermore, every one of them has his very own set of quirks. They may be small like James' fondness for sunflower seeds but there are also some bigger ones like Roy's habit of always playing the boss. The fact that he is every now and then putting some sparklers into packs of cigarettes is also responsible for lightening up a bit the actually pretty gritty and serious atmosphere.
Since we are already at it: There is also an amusing scene in which the five bodyguards suddenly start kicking a paper ball in a waiting room. Naturally while being completely dressed in fancy suits and keeping a straight face the whole time. But it's just those moments that fabricate the magic of this movie since the individuals all seem very human despite their professionality and ruthlessness. The sense of brotherhood shows to advantage especially strong and the code of honor those characters live by is also soon accepted by the viewer.

The Mission - Film Screenshot 12

Very well done is the depiction of the several individuals in the respect that it takes place on a very subtle level as already stated. In order to achieve such a difficult task, that means depite the lack of character introduction which slowly could have breathed life into the individuals in a natural way, there is strong need of good actors. And "The Mission" is full of performers who know their craft.
Anthony Wong plays the leader whose coldbloodedness earned him the name "The Ice". But unter his coldblooded surface he is also just a human who has a small barber shop. Wong has portrayed so many characters in his career and every one of them was unique in respect to their character traits. In "The Mission" Wong doesn't do anything different, meaning that he is giving a fantastic performance as usual.
Next to him there is Francis Ng who is especially convincing, playing the hothead of the group, yet always remaining professional. He has some problems with a few wannabe-gangsters who terrorize his bar, which sometimes distracts him from his work. But Curtis knows how to get rid of this problem very effectively. Thus, it's impressive that the sympathy of the viewer always lies with this group despite the coldbloodedness of the protagonists.

The other characters pale a bit in comparison to those masters of their trade, yet also offer some profoundness. Especially Lam Suet, normally known for his distinctive supporting roles, shows that he is truely capable of delivering as an actor. Eddy Ko as the aging gangster boss does cut a fine figur as well, as does Simon Yam as his brother, and the rest of the cast is also very good.
Directing-wise the movie is also top. The events are mostly captured in long shots and the pictures themselves all look very nicely composed. The lighting of the scenes and the sets are all well chosen, ony the score is sometimes a bit annoying, most of all the recurring main theme.
Suspense is high on To's list of priorities. Particularly the calm before the storm so typical for the director plays out perfectly. Moreover, the screenplay delivers some very good twists which improve the story by a lot and all in all make the film more than enjoyable.

The Mission - Film Screenshot 13

Naturally, there are some shootouts as well, but they are implemented pretty unobtrusively. However, a definite highlight is the scene in the shopping mall. That's where it becomes apparent how perfect the team works together. Long thrilling shots, the constant gun shots breaking the silence and great camera angles make this scene one of the best of the genre.
There is one downer, though, and that is "The Mission" being simply too short with its mere running time of 80 minutes. You really would like to spend more time in this world of professionality and brotherhood.

Concerning style and tension "The Mission" has laid the groundwork for movies like "Infernal Affairs". Johnnie To proves that he is an extraordinary filmmaker who should work alone more often. Great actors and surprising twists give the positive overall impression the finishing touches and make "The Mission" a small masterpiece of Hong Kong cinema.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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