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柔道龍虎榜 (2004)
Throw Down

Reviewed by: Beat TG
Date: 02/16/2009
Summary: Fresh narrative

Very interesting take on martial arts being the center-point of a simplified story and a narrative about characters who settle things in rather "honorable" ways in a contemporary world where things and situations seem to occur and reflect ancient times separating them from every other things and situations of the modernized setting. Such a narrative where it glorifies the atmosphere of the past and to make it look like things are really happening or even take place in the past times was just too fresh to behold. The acting, the events, the relationship between all the characters the characters' motives, the conflicts, the solutions... Altogether played out as if another world of today's society was existing.

Something else that's special is also Johnnie To's implementation of martial arts for THROW DOWN. He decided to expose the art of judo as a main element and not as a subject matter to work out the story that rather doesn't focus mainly on martial arts but on everything else presented (again, the relationships of every character). That is to say that the actual martial arts choreography (arranged by Johnnie To regular action director Yuen Bun) shows some kind of the characteristics of each character and the story's point of views through them overall instead of the characters showing their relation to martial arts, so to speak. In fact, I didn't interpret the story to be thick anyway because there wasn't not much in the story that lead to anything major or added more. But rather, I think To's was taking the usual route he always take when doing movies; how the martial arts element work out the characters, the story that just happen to be centered on it. All I can say to this is: Welcome to the world of Johnnie To.

Top-notch stuff!

Reviewer Score: 10

Reviewed by: j.crawford
Date: 03/21/2006
Summary: a remarkably engaging film

I'm conflicted about Johnnie To as a film artist. There are a couple of his films I find absolutely dreadful. His RUNNING ON KARMA from last year I thought was really wonderful. THROW DOWN is a remarkably engaging film that fascinated me throughout. Director To dedicates the film to the Japanese master film maker Akira Kurosawa and the film is a homage to one of Kurosawa's early films about judo.

Everyone practices judo or so it seems in the Hong Kong of this movie. Beyond that, the rest of the scenario is kind of pointless, in a cool way. It's easy to understand why festival audiences dig this kind of stuff. Louis Koo Tin-Lok and Aaron Kwok Fu-Sing have never looked so good or had better material to work with. Cherrie Ying Choi-Yi is very good in her role and is able to hold her own on the screen. All technical aspects of the movie are of the highest quality.

Reviewer Score: 10

Reviewed by: ewaffle
Date: 03/05/2006
Summary: A fine looking mess

Johnny To might have created the movie he intended to with “Throw Down” but as an audience that is something we will never know—and shouldn’t be concerned with. What is important is to look at what he did, what wound up on the screen. “Throw Down” is an impressionistic, semi-hallucinatory splash of colors against the night sky. The characters in the movie are connected, with only one exception, by judo—the sport is at the center of daily life. No one is surprised at being challenged. Everyone is always ready for a fight. In this way it is like a classic kung fu movie, in which almost all the characters are skilled in some type of martial art and fights break out constantly. One needn’t have a reason for a fight—in “Throw Down” judo holds, arm breaking and shoulder dislocations are simply part of the air that one breathes.

The movie looks and sounds great. Cheng Siu-Keung was Johnny To’s cinematographer on a lot of projects—at least ten films—and his lighting and camera work are impeccable. One shot that might have been included just because it looked so good was when Cherrie Ying was sitting in the seat behind Louis Koo on a bus. The last shot of the scene—a scene that was a throwaway—was from directly overhead. It was a study of color and mass, with Koo’s head tipped back and Ying’s head tipped forward, both of them resting on the back of the seat that Koo was sitting on, very close together. It is the kind of shot that calls attention to itself but was completely appropriate in this context.

There was another shot on a bus, earlier in the movie, that was notable because of its length. Koo, Ying and Kwok run for a bus and catch it just as it pulls away. They sit in the last seat, three across with Koo in the middle. As they sit down Koo looks at his watch, a bit of a post-modern smirk at what is coming next. There is a two-shot of Koo and Kwok, with Kwok asking the only question that he is interested in—whether or not Koo will fight him. Then another two-shot, with Ying asking if he has hired her—she is a singer, he a nightclub owner. This is followed by a shot of the three of them as the bus bounces and turns along the Hong Kong streets. Koo has a bright red bandanna with which he continuously wipes his face and neck while explaining, generally inaudibly to the audience, what the three of them are on their way to do. The amazing thing about this shot is that it is ONE MINUTE AND 27 SECONDS LONG. We are talking about years, centuries, eons in film time. Most movies don’t have shots that long and certainly not one centered on Louis Koo, an actor that To has to encumber with a lot of screen business to keep his lack of talent from overwhelming the rest of the cast.

Some of the tricks that To uses for Koo have been noted. He stumbles around a lot, generally going in one direction. He stumbles through hospital corridors, crowded video game parlors, even his own nightclub. And as he stumbles along, Cheng Siu-Keung’s handheld camera tracks him, matching every misstep, trip and wobble. There is one other shot that at first seemed, like the one from directly above Koo and Ying, to be one that was included just to show Cheng Siu-Keung’s skill—an extreme close-up of Koo’s eye followed by a slow pan down his cheek, lingering a bit on his razor while he shaves. It could have been just an unnecessary bit of transition from one scene to another but its function became clear when the final credits rolled—given pride of place among the many credits for product placement were the shaving products of the Gillette division of Proctor and Gamble.

“Throw Down” doesn’t have much of a plot, certainly not in the Aristotle’s meaning. One of his requirements of a plot it be a “structural union of the parts, being such that, if any one of them is displaced or removed the whole will be disjointed and disturbed”. If the scenes of “Throw Down” were put on index cards, shuffled, tossed into the air and then picked at random off the floor and the movie shot in the resulting order it wouldn’t be any more or less incoherent and structurally flawed than it is. It is already disjointed and disturbed.

It is fitting that nothing Louis Koo’s character does makes sense, since Koo is such an untalented actor. His ineptitude makes Cherrie Ying look like Garbo when they are onscreen together. Koo couldn’t act scared on a subway platform in the Bronx at 4:00 AM. Ying’s character is the only one who is not connected to the others by judo. She shows up for a job as a singer, hangs around while the boys fight and throw money around and then leaves. She has a good scene in which she is following her agent on the street, literally pulling at him and demanding that he find her something in show business—if all the record labels have turned him down, then film, TV, Adult Video, anything will do. It turns out that she is the only daughter of a very wealthy man, a guy who has bankrolled her artistic efforts in Taiwan and Hong Kong and is planning to continue to do so when she relocates to Japan which will happen right after the end of the movie.

Most of “Throw Down” takes place at night or in dimly lighted interiors. To and Cheng Siu-Keung use the darkness and dimness very well, giving it an Alan Rudolph, up all night look. It looks lovely. The soundtrack features some decent faux-jazz and effective use of synthesizer back orchestration for “important” scenes. The fights are generally well staged and by far the most realistic part of the film.

Not a bad movie if you can ignore the wooden performance of Louis Koo and the lack of any real motivation by any of the characters. Unwatchable if consistent good acting and a believable, even by action movie standards, plot is important.

Reviewer Score: 5

Reviewed by: Gaijin84
Date: 02/23/2006
Summary: Good judo action but a muddled plot...

Johnnie To's Throw Down could have been an interesting story of challenge and redemption in the world of Judo, but it falls short. Louis Koo plays Szeto To, a former champion who has fallen on hard times and is a competitive shell of his former self. Tony (Aaron Kwok) is an advanced judo student who is itching to challenge himself against the best and, having sought out Szeto To, makes himself a constant presence in his club, doing anything he can to remind Szeto that he wants his best effort. To round out the cast, Cherrie Ying plays Mona, an aspiring singer who has been traveling country to country in the hopes of becoming the next big pop idol. She also makes a home at Szeto's club and performs with his band. Through a series of encounters we learn that Szeto is in debt to a local gangster due to his compulsive gambling but for some reason is intent on stealing the gangster's own money in order to gamble and pay him back. Not the smartest idea, but dire straights bring desperate measures. There are too many sub-plots to delve into, and none but a few seem to have much of a resolution at the end.
For the most part, I found To's work to be nicely shot, but very muddled plot-wise and relatively poorly acted. Louis Koo seems to literally stumble through most of the film, shifting between acting as if he's got a massive hangover to a serious concussion. Aaron Kwok is quite good as the driven judo enthusiast, showing some great martial arts work and some good comedic scenes. Cherrie Ying is decent, but I'm not sure what her character's role in the movie is supposed to bring to the table. She appears out of nowhere and disappears without seeming to have effected either Szeto or Tony. I'm afraid her only purpose was to be a pretty face on the screen. Tony Leung Ka-Fai's role as the top judo master in Hong Kong is interesting, but the mere presence of his character leads to one of the main problems I had with the movie. I'm not sure if it is meant to be tongue-in-cheek, but every main character, save for Mona, is an expert at Judo. No matter what they do for work, when they all come together it is like Judo-fest 2006. It seemed a bit implausible to me, and therefore took away a bit from the fantastic choreography. For the most part, people will watch this movie for the rare presence of judo being used as the main martial art, and in that sense Throw Down does not disappoint. All of the fighting scenes are well executed and the actors do not seem to be going through the paces, but really completing text-book judo applications. It is quite exciting to watch. However, the rest of the movie fails to make much of any kind of impression and therefore can only be marginally recommended.


Reviewer Score: 6

Reviewed by: MrBooth
Date: 01/08/2006

This off-beat film about judo and adversity is a worthy part of Johnnie To's filmography, and almost certainly the highlight of Aaron Kwok's. The only real disappointment was Louis Koo, whose lack of acting ability was a major detriment to the film. Several people have missed a critical plot detail because his acting failed to convey it! It's not as if he's a judo expert in real life or anything either, so I don't know why he got the role...

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: pjshimmer
Date: 11/16/2005
Summary: A different kind of film from Johnnie To

Johnnie To chiefly makes 2 types of films: shamelessly commercial dollar generators, and personal projects which can turn into financial disasters, which is why he continues to make the first type to be able to finance his personal projects. I would classify Throw Down somewhere in between. It took home about $8 million HKD (according to Brns.com), and employs 2 leading pop stars. But its subject matter is risky in HK cinema (e.g. not guaranteed for success), and I am sure Johnnie didn't direct Throw Down for the sole purpose of generating cash. The result is a fine product. I was sold after 20 minutes or so.


Reviewer Score: 7

Reviewed by: Kung Fu Bob
Date: 05/06/2005

Okay, so the plot is already rehashed several times in the other reviews, so I won't go there. But I do want to say my piece on the film. I first watched THROW DOWN on DVD and I enjoyed it, but thought that something was missing. Recently it played at the Philadelphia Film Festival, so I decided to check it out again with the added attraction of viewing it on the big screen. I was very surprised at how much more I enjoyed it the second time around.
The judo action is very cool. It's realistic and exciting, and had THIS martial artist psyched to hit some mats when it was over. Sure it's a little strange that nearly everyone in Hong Kong seems to know and fight with judo, but that's a minor complaint.
Aaron Kwok's acting improves slightly with each role he takes, and he's great with the physical stuff. In addition, I think this was a good part for him due to the limited dialouge. The rest of the cast are just fine, with Tong Leung bringing a special classiness to his role. The story is a little underdeveloped, but there's a quirkiness to the whole thing that keeps you interested in the fate of the eccentric characters. It also displays a warm humor that I felt was rightfully missing from PTU, and inappropriately used in BREAKING NEWS. Stylish? Oh yeah. To's loaded this picture with beautiful day and night time shots that made me feel like I was right there walking (and running) with the characters through the streets of Hong Kong.
I recommend seeing Akira Kurosawa's JUDO SAGA before watching THROW DOWN. Not only is it a wonderful film, but it will certainly add to your enjoyment and understanding of To's film.
THROW DOWN shows it's dreamers being repeatedly slammed to the mat of life, but having the spirit to pull themselves up for another try. Sentimental without being sickening, THROW DOWN is definitely worth seeing. 7.5 out of 10

Reviewed by: Sydneyguy
Date: 04/02/2005
Summary: Not for me

I just couldnt enjoy this film. I couldn't care less of the characters and there lies the problem, with a movie which is more style than story.
Tony Leung Ka Fai is cool but tehe rest of the characters didnt interest me. I am a Johnnie To fan but i just didn't like this movie, maybe i need more than a once viewing but i was bored!!

Just for the judo action,

Reviewed by: mrblue
Date: 01/13/2005

Johnnie To is one of my favorite directors, so it was really hard for me to give such a low score to one of his movies. However, Throw Down offers so little to the viewer that it becomes an exercise in tedium at times. From start to finish, Throw Down doesn't feel like it's going anywhere. To has been accused at times of basically throwing things on-screen just to put them there -- Throw Down is the first time that I have agreed with that criticism.

In the film, Louis Koo plays a former judo champion who now spends his days drinking at a bar he owns and his nights gambling away what little money he has. A stranger (Aaron Kwok) comes into the bar and wants to challenge Louis, but he's can't fight anymore due to the booze. During the same time, a pretty singer looking for her big break (Cherrie Ying) starts working for Louis. The trio eventually form a strange friendship, which leads to Louis once again training to become a champion in order to honor his sensei, who has passed away.

As I said before, Throw Down is just a dull movie. There's a lot of scenes with people just sitting around talking without saying much of anything. Oh sure, there's an attempt to jazz things up with "quirky" dialogue, some odd side characters (like a video game-obsessed dai lo that Louis keeps trying to rob) and lively cinematography. But in the end, even if the movie is technically done well, there's nothing to it. I can appreciate a good character study, but you need strong actors for that, and the talent here simply isn't up to the job. Louis Koo fares the best here, but that's not saying much when he's going against prettyboy Aaron Kwok, who's better known for his lousy fashion sense and hawking Pepsi than being able to act. I noticed that Kwok had both a personal hair stylist and make up person credited to him on this production -- perhaps he should invest in an acting coach as well.

Johnnie To has been on a tear as of late, directing, writing and/or producing many films over the past year. Unfortunately, when you're involved with so many projects, some of them will end up being less than stellar. Maybe To should take a vacation, lest he follow the path of other Hong Kong producer/directors like Tsui Hark, who over-worked himself into thinking stuff like Legend of Zu and Knock Off were good movies.

[review from www.hkfilm.net]

Reviewed by: magic-8
Date: 09/16/2004
Summary: Kurosawa: Hong Kong Style

Johnnie To celebrates Akira Kurosawa with “Throw Down,” a contemporary take on the master filmmaker’s “Sanshiro Sugata,” told in Hong Kong cinema style. To’s homage gives us his most complete film since “The Mission.” The plot concerns a young upstart (Aaron Kwok), a has-been judo master (Louis Koo) and the reigning judo expert (Tony Leung). Louis Koo plays a down-and-out musician, running a nightclub. Besides drinking to excess, he has a gambling addiction and owes everybody money. Aaron Kwok hangs around waiting to challenge the former judo champion, while Tony Leung also bides his time, having waited over two years to challenge Koo. Cherrie Ying provides some comedic relief and pathos and is the lone woman in the film.

The cinematography by Cheng Siu Keung and the set design really evokes Kurosawa’s “Sanshiro Sugata,” especially with the finale. There are some bits with Koo, Kwok and Ying that are too cute, but thankfully, such fluff is washed over by some well-orchestrated scenes. The scene in the nightclub with four tables is quite amazing. While many viewers are drawn to Johnnie To films for the action sequences, his direction is most effective with the quiet scenes and the measured chaotic moments.

The judo is demonstrated in the fast, Hong Kong action mode. The holds and throws flash quickly across the screen, reflecting Yuen Bun's action choreography, which is very detailed and intricate. The cast worked with judo consultant, Alamdin Karim and his crew, and it shows. The wild brawl that overflows from the nightclub onto the streets is visually stunning and a testament to the cast’s hard work.

Aaron Kwok and the supporting cast stand out in “Throw Down.” To was even able to have Koo expand his acting range, somewhat, but he still has problems with transitions. It takes Koo a while before he gets into his stride. His character’s change of heart is almost imperceptible, but somehow everything works, even down to Koo's mumbling delivery. Not only is “Throw Down” a vastly entertaining movie, it’s also To’s best effort this year.

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: Toge
Date: 09/12/2004

Acclaimed Hong Kongese director Johnnie To's tribute to Akira Kurosawa, Throw Down is about a story of a former Judo champion called Sze-To (played by Louis Koo), who quit Judo to run a nightclub. However, the appearance of a young challenger called Tony (Aaron Kwok), an old unfinished challenge from a rival (Tony Leung Ka-Fai) & his old master revives his Judo instinct, who goes back to training and beat his drinking/gambling habit.

Having never seen a Kurosawa film, this is quite a weird film for me, since I have never seen this style before. It is more like To's "PTU" (2003) - there isn't much dialogue, but the story is told visually. To doesn't direct a masterpiece, or even a fun film (like "Breaking News", 2004), but creates a fairly well paced, reality-like tale where the viewer is engrossed, but slightly confused. The film tends to go off pace from time to time, switch back and forth from different character's situations, but this doesn't really distract you from the viewing. Louis Koo & Aaron Kwok do their respective jobs pretty well, fitting in with their character's quirky personalities. To also puts subtle humour into the film, but also puts another moral to the film - perseverance. The other cast don't really stand out, but do suit the film perfectly.

Being a judo film from HK, there actually isn't much of of it - but when there is, it is quite realistic and quite exciting stuff, even if the cameraman sometimes shoots the action too close, or too far. The last fight is the best - well edited, well choreographed and well shot.

So all in all, quite a surprise from the To, since it doesn't have the glamour or tense atmosphere from the previous films such as "Breaking News" or "Running out of Time" (1998), but it does have plot over style akin to PTU, and does make you think when it ends. And then makes you rewatch it to see if you have missed anything.