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Original Title:
Yau doh lung fu bong

Hong Kong 2004


Johnnie To

Louis Koo
Aaron Kwok
Cherrie Ying
Eddie Cheung
Tony Leung Ka-Fai
Lo Hoi-Pang
Jordan Chan
Calvin Choi

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Throw Down

Story: Szeto (Louis Koo) is the owner of a Club, which he doesn't manage profitably. Most times he is drunk and tries to save his Club by stealing money from a local triad boss (Eddie Cheung), just to loose the money right away by gambling.
Szeto's pitiful existence takes a turn, when Judo-fighter Tony (Aaron Kwok) comes to Szeto's club challenging him for a fight. Szeto himself was once a Judo-Champion, but that was a long time ago. Henceforth, Tony stays at Szeto's Club until he finds the will to engage into a duel with him. Wanna-be-singer Mona (Cherrie Ying) also starts to work for Szeto and accompanies him in his nightly gambling tours.
After all, Szeto is also approached by Judo-Master Kong (Tony Leung Ka-Fai), who was once supposed to fight him in tournament two years ago, in which Szeto never showed up. A big Judo-Tournament is about to be held, but Kong realizes that Szeto isn't the man he once knew anymore.
Cheng (Lo Hoi-Pang), the former master of Szeto wants him to attend the tournament representing his dojo. Szeto refuses, but somehow the world of Judo is still attached to him.

Review: "Throw Down" is an odd movie. Johnnie To fans could be disappointed, because there are no typical To-like action sequences, yet, the movie is To's most explorative work so far.
"Throw Down" is a Johnnie To movie without being one and nevertheless the director manages to stick to his own style. This may sound strange, but you have to watch the movie to understand what's meant by this.
Fact is, that the movie is more of a drama which is all around Judo at first glance. But actually it offers so much more. The individual characters are in the spotlight of the events and the director surely takes his time to explore every one of them.

Szeto is a boozy Club-Manager, who most of the time apathetically staggers around, trying to get enough money to keep his business open. However, he wasn't always like this. The question is what made him flee the world of Judo and why he has become such a joyless person. Even though there is no straight answer to that (alcohol will definitely have been one of the reasons), Szeto is apparently a broken man.
Now Tony comes into play. He is an ambitious young sportsman, always in search of a new opponent. Szeto sooner or later has to recognize his own former self in Tony. Tony remains persistent and doesn't give up until he gets the chance to duel the former Judo-Champion.
The two get complemented by Mona, a singer, who chases her dreams, not willing to give them up yet, despite all the previous failings she had to experience. She also reflects a former part of Szeto and so this unusual trio's fate is intertwined for a while.

Sadly, the characters always remain a little bit inscrutable. Sometimes their motives and behavior is quite elusive. However, this is mainly because To wants to invite us to read between the lines. Those who are willing to do so will find themselves more satisfied by the end product. In other words, To avoids to throw in unnecessary dialogues between the characters in order to resolve certain things. Nevertheless, there is some invisible bond that connects these three people. This becomes quite obvious when they sit on the backseat of a bus, more or less without saying anything, or when they play music on stage.
Louis Koo ("Election") makes quite an impression as the never sober Ex-Champion, who has fallen into a deep hole, that he can't get out from on his own. Aaron Kwon ("Divergence") convincingly plays the younker, who despite of all his ambitions is always filled out with a certain amount of stillness. Too bad, that his character is a little bit shallow most of times. The same goes for Cherrie Ying ("Fulltime Killer"), who surely does a good job but lacks depth of character.

The good cast is complemented by a very cool Tony Leung Ka-Fai as a Judo-Master, an amusingly wacky Triad Boss, who is addicted to every form of games, played by Eddie Cheung and a cameo appereance by Jordan Chan.
Quite unusual is the offbeat humor in "Throw Down", which every now and then successfully does give a fine contrast to the otherwise gritty world, sometimes making the movie nearly a comedy. The repetitive style of some of the dialogues, the muteness of some persons, respectively some of the persons in general, or the fact that almost everyone is versed in Judo - there is a lot to laugh about.
However, most of the time the movie successfully tries to be a drama. Along the way, there are some very moving scenes like the one in which Mona runs from the gambling thugs whose money she had stolen, loosing most of it along the way on the dark streets.

Subsequent to the just mentioned scene, Mona is getting back the shoe, that Szeto has lost while keeping busy Mona's persecutor, moreover helping her "boss" to put it on again. An innuendo to Akira Kurosawa's "Sugata Sanshiro", as well as the annoying greeting phrase of the mentally retarded son of Cheng. The whole thing about Judo is one big gesture of respect to Kurosawa, as directly mentioned in the ending credits.
Nonetheless, To sticks to his own gritty style. The lighting of the scenes, primarily the empty streets at night, remind us of "PTU", and the scenes at the Club also remind us of some previous works of To.
Those who expect some action might get disappointed. There are some Judo-fights (even some free-for-all fights) and here above all Koo's and Kwoks physical devotion has to be praised, as they do their best to let the several moves look as realistic as possible, but in the end all these scenes can't be called real action sequences.

Unfortunately, "Throw Down" has its flaws. To's work sometimes is too much in love with itself, although it's not so bad as in the already mentioned "PTU". The movie doesn't really feel like a whole and it's not really thrilling neither. Instead of that, the movie is more different than what we were used to see from To. A little bit more emotional, profound, yet also more funny than we would have expected, the movie will find its fans for sure - and rightly so.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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