(1999)
The Mission


Reviewed by: Masterofoneinchpunch
Date: 05/21/2015
Summary: "I only knew what filmmaking was about when making The Mission" - Johnnie To

1999 was a breakout year for Johnnie To. He started off with the underrated Where a Good Man Goes, but it was the next two films that would help raise his status as an auteur. The commercial success of Running Out of Time was followed by the critical success of The Mission (which was not a commercial success) where he would win best director at the Hong Kong Film Awards, Golden Bauhinia Awards and Golden Horse Film. It follows a pattern of To filming more personal projects which were funded by the more popular fare of his co-owned production company Milkyway. The Mission was invited along with two other To titles to the Berlin Film Festival after Ulrich Gregor saw the film. This led to more Milkyway titles being shown at various cinematic events.

The Chinese title (æj»ð) translates to gunfire. I prefer the English title which refers more to the homosocial nature of the team aspects in this film (a theme also explored in other To films like PTU and Exiled). In many ways this was a typical Hong Kong production. It took 18 days to film, cost about 320,000 American dollars (2.5 million HK dollars) to make and there was no script. It sounds like a recipe for disaster, but the results were atypical. What was created was an elliptical, sometimes enigmatic yet energetic film about honor and languor among lower triad members. It is among my top 50 Hong Kong movies of all-time.

The film has a simple yet elegant structure to it. You can break it into three acts, but it really consists of a prologue (five minutes), the main act (58 minutes) and a coda (21 minutes; or you can consider this the second act.) There is a prologue which economically shows all five of the main characters who will later be hired as bodyguards. Afterwards there is an interesting use of having the shootout start and background noises in the credits which starts the main mission. Then there is a minor mission as the coda.

The main mission which takes the majority of the film is started when a triad boss Lung (Eddy Ko Hung: The Thundering Mantis) has an attempt on his life by unknown assailants. His brother Frank (Simon Yam: PTU) hires five bodyguards (Curtis: Anthony Wong, Roy: Francis Ng, Shin: Jackie Lui, Mike: Roy Cheung, James: Lam Suet) to protect him. They are basically sequestered until whoever is behind the attempts on Lung is found and removed as a threat. This means hours of just sitting around, playing pranks and doing menial chores like chauffeuring Mrs. Lung. This is most exemplified by the most famous scene where the bodyguards kick a paper ball back and forth to each other while waiting for Mr. Lung. It writes banal but it comes across as exhilarating as the chatter between Vincent and Jules in Pulp Fiction (itself a scene reminiscent of Shoot the Piano Player). The scenes of boredom reminds me of pertinent aspects of several jobs that are rarely filmed such as police officers, private investigators where you have hours of tedium sometimes followed by intense life-and-death activities like the assassination attempts in this film.

Small spoilers ahead in this paragraph: Surprisingly the mission is wrapped up quicker than you might realize. However, this leads to the coda where their codes of work and honor will be tested. To had two different endings for the film. The bleak ending was not used because the past several post-handover films from Milkway like The Longest Nite and Expect the Unexpected had doleful endings. He wanted to make his films lighter.

This is a must watch for not just Hong Kong film fans, but anyone who studies cinema as well. Fans of action might be put off by the static compositions and use of lethargic pacing. To¡¯s mix is akin to combining John Woo and Michelangelo Antonioni. Where else do you see jianghu (literally translated as rivers and lakes but it is an idiom that means the fictional universe inhabited within a wuxia or gangster movie) concepts mixed with malaise? But with this film To showed that he was an auteur and a brilliant one at that who could mix a variety of seemingly incompatible influences into a genre film and create one of the unique films of the era. If there is a weakness to me it is the soundtrack. Sometimes the minimalist electronic beats are effective and sometimes it comes off as reminiscent of the computerized scores prevalent in the 1980s though sometimes the beat is strangely catchy. It is but a small flaw. The acting is superb with the intense Francis Ng among my favorites here. The cinematography has been dissected and rightly heralded by critics. Since it carries many To¡¯s trademarks it helps to view this film more than once or at least pay strict attention while watching it. Plot points are alluded to and rarely repeated more than once. It is a challenging work and it is no wonder that this film continues to be among the top Chinese languge lists.

I always find cinematic connections fascinating and this film is abundant with these allusions. To has stated ¡°I was under the influence of Akira Kurosawa when I was shooting ¡°The Mission.¡± You can see it in To¡¯s use of the vertical wipe as well as the use of camera movement.* Stephen Teo documents a lot of them in his monograph on Johnnie To in the book Director in Action. But you can also see the influence of Takashi Kitano on him as well especially in Sonatine. You can see this less explicitly in the torture scene (one of the most disturbing scenes in Sonatine to me was when the gangster was drowned by being left in the water too long, you do not get to see the result of what happens to analogous character in this film right away though another example of To¡¯s use of elliptical technique), but much more explicit on the Tsuen Wan Shopping Mall shooting scene which paralleled the laconic and Spartan bar shootout in Sonatine which almost looks like a Civil War standoff. The gangster malaise seen throughout this movie in common with Kitano is also familiar to fans of French auteur Jean Pierre Melville another big influence on To and John Woo.** The split screen scene is most likely influenced by the split-screens used in Norman Jewison¡¯s The Thomas Crown Affair which also was the basis of To¡¯s 2004 film Yesterday Once More.

This OOP Mei Ah R1/NTSC copy is interlaced and the picture quality suffers a bit. The darks tend to be too dark. I am sure this is just a port from the laserdisc. There are three sets of subtitles: Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese and English. The English subs are pretty good. The two audio tracks are Cantonese and Mandarin with either Dolby Digital or Dolby Digital Surround 5.1. There is a trailer for the film (strangely has some scenes sped up) and one trailer for Ringo Lam¡¯s Victim (1999). The only other extras under the hilariously titled Data Bank are a Synopsis and Cast & Crew in both Chinese and English.

This is a movie that needs to have a good BD/DVD release of. For the States it would make a nice Criterion edition ¨C if only Criterion treated Mainland, Taiwanese and Hong Kong films as seriously as they do Japanese. When Johnnie To did his top 10 Criterions (this is a superlative selection, make a point to see these movies if you have not already) for the company I was hoping this meant a release of one of his films but alas nothing came of it. At least the British Masters of Cinema put a release of Mad Detective (highly recommended; it is surprisingly R0/NTSC.) But I would love for any company to put out a remastered BD/DVD of this.

* Akira loved using the vertical wipe as a transaction for small shifts in time while he would use the fade for longer periods of time. His use of excess amounts of rain in scenes is well known and influenced many Hong Kong directors. You would find countless influences in works by Johnnie To and John Woo.

** I find it fascinating that all three of those directors (Woo, To and Melville) have stated that they prefer and understand directing men¡¯s character and have trouble with women¡¯s characterizations. All three also have similarities where they deal with gangster¡¯s codes of conduct. To and Woo are both fans of musicals and have wanted to direct one.

Notes:
You can always find connections in To¡¯s movies to other To films besides Lam Suet. Some are more obvious than others while some are just small connections. The loss of fingers by an unpaying client by Roy reminded me of the finger gag in The Odd One Dies. The video game playing reminded me of Throwdown where there it plays a more important aspect. Anthony Wong¡¯s unusual looks is also commented in Exiled. The boss making coffee is a scene similar to many in To¡¯s films where food is often prepared like the robbers in Breaking News and Costello making the meal in Vengeance.
The more I watch this the more I realize that the boss Lung is controlled quite a bit by his brother. Pay attention to who makes the calls for people to be killed (of course one can make the argument that it keeps Lung¡¯s hands clean.) Also pay attention to Lung¡¯s demeanor. In history many important figures were secondary and smartly in the shadows. It makes you less likely for an assassination attempt.

Reviewer Score: 10

Reviewed by: Gaijin84
Date: 02/14/2009
Summary: One of the best of the 90s...

With a cast and director as talented as the those in The Mission, its no wonder that the film is one of the best from the 90s. Johnnie To expertly directs the ensemble in a cerebral thriller that has you hooked from the opening moments. As expected, Anthony Wong and Francis Ng are fantastic, able to command the screen with minimum words but maximum body language. Lam Suet and Simon Yam add great supporting roles to the already strong story. Although I imagine it was influenced by Michael Mann's "Heat," the gun battles in The Mission are also incredible, especially the one that takes place in the mall after the crowds have cleared out. The members of the team all know their roles to perfection and execute plans to a T. It's exciting to see professionals that are calm and collected in a harried situation instead of screaming and firing blindly in the general direction of the attackers. The ending of The Mission is also a treat and will have you thinking back to the motivation and action of each of the members leading up to that point. Highly recommended and begging for a legitimate Special Edition DVD or Blu-ray release.

9/10

Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: Beat TG
Date: 01/20/2008
Summary: New heights reached

If people are in every way going to expect something out of the general story, be in for a big disappointment as the story is too clichéd and won't work in the generic sense. What matters the most is HOW everything is shot, edited, scored, developed, symbolized and executed to a certain aspect. At this point the movie is no longer considered at an entertainment level or telling a story just for the sake of telling a story and it's characters but it highlights the movie language to tell the story in different ways to accomplish something refreshing and an overall original sense of understanding and appreciating the movie's content instead of overlooking the techs and just look at the surface (looking at what's presented in frame and not how it's presented, just to summon my words). So to me, THE MISSION is a non-ordinary piece of movie-making and not just a piece for entertainment and excitement (once you get the point you'll be appreciating and enjoying such movies more, but it's not always easy to get used to that).

The character development was very interesting and went on to flesh out most of the main characters in the most unique way I've seen so far. Curtis is someone who's cold-hearted, doesn't mind leading the teamwork once it's time for them to go into action and does what he's ordered to do with no much problems and knows the line of doing something moral and what he believes is right for himself and others and learns from his mistakes as well (particularly during scenes with Francis Ng). Roy is an overly hot-headed guy but fortunately not the typical one. He's someone with heart, with great experience and with the will to take care of others who are either weak and inexperienced while thinking both highly of others, who can handle themselves, as well as low of strangers or those he has a hard time getting to know better (Curtis) and doesn't seem to care what others say to him and only cares for his own actions and motives: you could say he's the lone wolf of the team. Shin, who is Roy's friend and "adopted" brother, is completely the opposite of Roy's characteristics; someone who has less experience, is impulsive, talks too much, shows off, and wants a free ride in an otherwise risky profession. While this character was the weakest in terms of performance, it was still good nonetheless as To gave it a few nice touches and so forth that was keeping the character alive. Mike is the sociable, friendly and the most patient individual of the team and depends on his own experiences as well as the others to get jobs done and have it too easy to make friends with them, even with those of different personalities and values. He also knows much about firearms and hot situations and won't hesitate to advice and listen to what the others say to him to gain new experience improve his skills in dealing with guns. And lastly, you have James as the quiet, very responsive and ambitious type who's also the most relaxed one of the team. When he's on duty he's spends too much time eating sunflower seeds (some kind of relaxation or deed to avoid boredom I guess) and when it's time to protect the boss, only cares of just protect and make sure no one gets hurt or killed. Outside that, he's doesn't seem to care too much about what others do (apart from Curtis who is his good friend) and can just stick to his own habits.

As you can already tell, not only are the characters studied very well and pulled off flawlessly to give a broader and relate-able aspect of understanding different personalities but so is the rest of the movie where different elements are thrown in to tell from a much extending perspective. Combine them and you'll experience a new sense of perceiving the character interactions and behavior in a bizarre yet common way, that only Johnnie To is great at that can't be matched nor topped by others.

Reviewer Score: 10

Reviewed by: cal42
Date: 10/30/2007
Summary: Stick with it - it's worth it!

Triad boss Lung (Eddie Ko) is targeted for assassination by persons unknown. Mid-level gangster Frank (Simon Yam) assembles a team of bodyguards to keep Lung safe and to draw out the assassin. These turn out to be Curtis (Anthony Wong), Shin (Jackie Lui), Roy (Francis Ng), Mike (Roy Cheung) and James (Lam Suet).

It seems like a simplistic plot, and in a way it is, but Johnnie To’s The Mission is a lot more involved than it first appears. Besides, the real meat of the film can’t be mentioned without causing some serious spoilers for anyone who’s never seen it.

The team of bodyguards is assembled without the viewer knowing anything about them, and this causes some confusion (well, it did with me, anyway). Their backgrounds aren’t talked about (except for Curtis, who is a hairdresser in his other life!) and until things get underway you’re left wondering what the hell’s going on too much of the time. It was obviously a deliberate ploy by To to give the characters an air of mystery, but in my opinion, he achieves this a little too well. It comes as a great relief when things eventually settle down and everything clicks into place, and I strongly suspect this will be a much more enjoyable film to watch on second viewing.

There are some great touches, such as when the gangsters are waiting around for their boss and decide to kick a crumpled ball of paper to each other to while away the time. It’s a human touch that is lacking from too many films of this nature, and makes what follows surprisingly believable.

The gunfights are also handled in a very different way from your standard “Heroic Bloodshed”. In one stand out scene, the gang seem almost bored by an attack on them. Showing the mundanity of “another day at the office” for a gang of gun-wielding killers sends shivers down the spine.

Acting throughout is outstanding, and Anthony Wong shows his usual understated flair. The supporting actors, many of who would reappear for To’s Exiled in 2006, also perform brilliantly. The only flaw to the film is a rather by-the-numbers synth score and the aforementioned difficulty of the early stages of the film.

Unfortunately, the Mei-Ah disc from Hong Kong is one of the worst discs I’ve ever seen. For some reason, the distributor’s caption seems to have burned itself on the print and appears like a kind of watermark through the entire film. If that wasn’t enough, the picture transfer is shoddy anyway, and the sound is muffled and muddy. It actually looks like a VHS bootleg, and this kind of thing it totally unacceptable for any film made in the last ten years, let alone one as good as this. My copy also came from Hong Kong with a big dent in the cover like someone had spent a fair while sitting on it, but I realise that this might not apply to all copies of the disc :).

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: dandan
Date: 07/03/2007
Summary: expectations met...

i'm a bit of a late-comer to johnnie to; i had mixed feelings about 'the longest nite' although it is on a pile of films that i need to re-watch, but i loved the understated 'where a good man goes' and enjoyed the over-stated, if not, ridiculous 'fulltime killer'. then i watched 'exiled', which was just bloody brilliant: now, i've watched 'the mission', which is regarded as somewhat of a forerunner for 'exiled'...

lung (eddy ko), a triad boss who has narrowly escaped an assasination attempt, assembles a team of five bodyguards; curtis (anthony wong), roy (francis ng), james (lam suet), mike (roy cheung) and shin (jackie lui). they must keep lung safe, from those who wish him dead, but, in doing so, they may be getting themselves into trouble...

well, from a film that i've heard nothing but praise for, i'm happy to say that i was not let down. a simple, elegant, character driven piece, filled with great performances and little moments of brilliance; it paints a picture of the relationship that develops between the group as they leave their own worlds behind to work for lung. whilst a scene where the five kick a ball of paper amongst themselves, as they wait for lung to finish a meeting, shows a lighter side of their characters, the way they deal with another assasination attempt in a shopping plaza shows a ruthless efficiency and organisation.

smooth cinematography and editing, complement the lack of balletic action choreography, with to choosing to embrace a simpler, seemingly authentic and minimal approach. even the slightly ropey soundtrack can't detract from, what is, a great film.

highly recommended...


Reviewed by: pjshimmer
Date: 05/02/2007

The Mission is more a minimalist film than my preconception ever imagined. This is what John Woo probably never could have crafted. That said, I didn't enjoy it as much as Exiled, Fulltime Killer, or even Beyond Hypothermia.

Reviewer Score: 7

Reviewed by: j.crawford
Date: 03/10/2007
Summary: an absolute must-see....

[1999 was a good year.] When Johnnie To released The Mission, the film was like a tsunami across the cinematic world. At the time, it was his finest work. It placed the director firmly in the spotlight of international fame. Looking back from 2007 after a festival screening of Exiled [2006], the film holds up well. It is still quite compelling and visually stunning. The performances by the principal players still hold great resonance. To, after a brief comedic period, has made some better films like the grim police thriller PTU and the esoteric Throw Down. This movie is still an absolute must-see if you are new to the films of Mr. To.

Reviewer Score: 10

Reviewed by: MrBooth
Date: 07/25/2006
Summary: 10/10 - Masterpiece

A HERO NEVER DIES was a satire of Heroic Bloodshed films that was pretty much a bullet in the head for the genre, exposing the absurdities and amplifying them to an unsurpassable degree. I see THE MISSION as a companion piece, an attempt to reinvent the genre by asking what men who make their living with guns would really be like. The answer turns out to be highly compelling.

Following an assassination attempt on Triad "Big Boss" Lung, five outsiders are brought in to protect him. We are told nothing of these men's back story, or why they are currently employed in jobs that seem beneath them. With the exception of young blood Shin we are told very little about the characters at all - one of the things we learn is that professional gunmen are not inclined to frivolous banter. What we learn about the characters we mostly get from their body language and their actions - something that could only work with a talented crew of actors such as Francis Ng and Lam Suet.

In contrast to the overblown melodrama and romanticism and exaggerated actions of the Heroic Bloodshed films, THE MISSION is a beautifully understated piece of cinema, an exceptionally subtle film. The script is stripped down to the minimal essentials, telling you no more than you need, and telling you that with maximal economy. The film is perhaps too subtle at times, it must be said - I don't think I know anyone who fully understood the plot the first time they saw it. Luckily this is a film that is well worth watching twice (and more).

In keeping with the minimalist philosophy, the film also offers a new vision of gun-oriented action scenes. It turns out that skilled professionals do not do somersaults and cartwheels whilst shooting at their enemies - they act with composure and control. This may be a system shock to those accustomed to Chow Yun Fat emptying thousands of rounds into the bad guys, but it is an equally gratifying vision of gunplay.

The film is helped by some excellent cinematography (tragically represented on the old Mei Ah disc) and a quirky soundtrack which helps to create the unique style and atmosphere of this innovative film. Despite (or perhaps because of) a very low budget, Johnnie To created a truly impressive and important film with THE MISSION - the quintessential film from Milkyway Image, in my opinion. I generally reckon it to be among my top 10 HK films of all time.

Recommended!

Reviewer Score: 10

Reviewed by: ewaffle
Date: 08/01/2005
Summary: Beautifully shot, edited and scored.

"The Mission" is a beautifully shot, effectively edited and almost perfectly acted movie. Its score, moving between bass and snare/trap cool jazz and frenetically repeated synthesizer chords, echoes the action and adds to the impact of what is on the screen. The main problem with "The Mission" is that it is very difficult to care about any of the characters.

"PTU" was also produced and directed by Johnny To, written by Yau Nai-Hoi, scored by Chung Chi Wing and shot by Cheng Sui-Chung. The two movies share many of the same cast members and have almost the same nihilistic, end of the world point of view.. And like PTU, "The Mission" takes place in a neon washed Hong Kong night where gunfights erupt in shopping malls, entertainment districts and office buildings without disturbing shoppers or tenants.

"The Mission" occurs in a male only society, a men’s club of unquestioning loyalty and a completely perverted devotion to honor. The loyalty is to the group—in this case a group of bodyguards responsible for insuring that a triad boss continues to remain among the living. They are willing to engage in firefights with better armed foes, stay at their posts while an enormous amount of ordinance is expended in their direction and be true to the code of their small group. When one of them is left behind—a correct tactical decision—the leader repays the debt he has incurred with the only currency with value among them, the life of an enemy.

Anthony Wong is perfect as the leader—or at least the first among equals—of the five bodyguards. He is a cold, remorseless and implacable killer. I don’t think he smiles until the last seconds of the movie—and I wasn’t too sure about that. The actors playing the rest of the gang are also wonderfully cast—but while they slowly develop different personalities, none of them, nor anyone else in the movie, are people that we want to see succeed. Francis Ng as Roy is as sleek and deadly as a shark, and with as much human kindness. James, played by Lam Suet, seems to be the odd man out until the shooting starts. Roy Cheung is Mike, a younger mobster who has to prove himself and does. Jackie Liu is the irrepressible Shin who loves being a tough guy and who wants the action to go as long as possible.

There are three major action pieces bookended by the attempted hit on the boss and the final, tumultuous meeting of the five. As each takes place we see how the five of them are turning into an effective fighting force. In the first, they are pinned down and the boss is hit (not badly) by a single sniper who keeps them at bay and almost ends the mission right there. The second is an astoundingly directed, shot and edited set piece in which the five bodyguards and the boss stage a fighting retreat through a closed shopping mall. By now there is no confusion—after the initial shock of being attacked, each of the group takes a position that allows him to return fire from the enemy while keeping watch for a sneak attack. This set of scenes must have been worried over, storyboarded and rehearsed until it was perfect. Several camera angles show the potentially deadly confusion of battle, the coolheaded response of the gang—plus some extremely accurate shooting—and the extremely dramatic climax and denouement of this scene. The third takes place after yet another attempted hit on the boss, this one hinging on a false friend of one of the bodyguards. By now the each member of the five know exactly what to do, although again faced with superior numbers and firepower.

The bodyguards accomplish all of this with style and panache, bonding closer to each other with each battle won. They are an unstoppable force and there is only one force that can divide and defeat them—a woman. She does undermine them, leading to a finale with plot twist upon plot twist and a hesitant smile from Anthony Wong.

Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: S.A. Winters
Date: 01/02/2003
Summary: Johnny To directed it, that's reason enough to see it.

One thing I like about showing up late to the HKMDB is I don't have to give a big review and outline of the story. Read someone elses for that. As far as my opinion.....

REASONS WHY I LOVE "THE MISSION"

1.Old School meets New School, on screen and off. Never has a HK film taken the some of the best pro's and paired them with some new blood and have the result so seamless and natural.

2. About #1, it happens IN the movie as well!.

3. DOWNTIME - Johnny To uses downtime like no other HK director. When those guys are kicking that piece of paper around, playing soccer, bored to tears waiting for their boss? You are watching a piece of HK film history. They will be showing that clip 50 years from now. There is an old American Western called My Darling Clementine and the actor Henry Fonda as the sheriff Wyatt Earp is trying sooo hard to sit and balance his chair against a pole. It's simple and magical.

2. THE ACTION SET PIECES - I like to call it "The Escalator" it's a big shoot out but everybody is so god damn relaxed because they are PROFESSIONALS.

3. THE TENSION - Hey I'm not going to spoil the plot but let me say the ending IS TENSE.

4. THE TWIST - see #3 Is there a traitor? an undercover cop? SORRY could be both, one or none.

5. THE CHARACTERS - although I have a love/hate thing for Anthony Wong, his understated performance helps the others more than you think. EVERBODY is good.

Sorry, I like to keep things short. The fact that you are on this sight means you WILL see this movie. Correct?


Reviewed by: Dyogenez
Date: 12/29/2002
Summary: slow paced, but right on target

This is one of the slowest movies i remember watching. For once that it not at all a bad thing. It is stil filled with action, and suspense giving it that much more of an impact. From the first scene, this movie had me, the slow pace really works wonders in this film.

The plot itself is very simple. 5 bodyguards set to protect a triad boss. There are many scenes where the boss is attacked and they perform well in addition to some creative fight scenes. The trouble of the movie comes when they have to find who is having an affair with the triad boss's wife and do away with them. The 5 bodyguards do not agree on a course of action, leaving the future unclear for these quiet killers.

There is almost no dialog in this movie. Mostly because during the fight scenes, and other scenes where the bodyguards are interacting they communicate with each other so subtly that there is no need for words. I wasn't expecting much when i first picked this one out to watch sight unseen, but was pleasently surprised with the overall outcome. Any movies that starts with someone playing Dance Dance Revolution will surely do go i suppose ^^

8.5/10

Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: shelly
Date: 05/16/2002
Summary: Classic style

When Boss Hung's life is threatened, he hires five retired bodyguards as protection. Their deadpan cool and chic black suits characterize one of the most interesting revisionist takes on the male bonding film yet filmed. The Mission seems to have aimed for and found an international audience in a very self-conscious way. A case for brilliantly realized self-fetishization, perhaps? This is manifested in its concentrated, craft-based stylistic perfectionism, and its clearly readable references (or homages, if one is attributing intent to the filmmaker) to recent "hot" filmmaking styles. For those who expect more of a film than a pure exercise in style, The Mission might seem thin, empty, a formalist exercise. Although it is heartening to see a Milkyway Image film with an international profile (it has certainly caught the eyes of many international film festival programmers), the film doesn't concern itself with servicing an audience's desire for pleasure, as do Running Out of Time and Johnnie To's huge domestic hit Needing You. Those had style plus heart, a richness that extends beyond the power of the images right into the films' stories. The Mission beguiles with its bravura stylistic set-pieces. But open it up, and what's inside? A gangsters and gunplay film distilled to its essence, The Mission reaches for the sublime. A celebration of pure form (think Seven Samurai refracted through Takeshi Kitano, via Melville), To's version of Hong Kong minimalism is stillness at full speed. That might sound like a contradiction, but To, the key current incarnation of Hong Kong auteur as artist-craftsman, can pull it off, with wit, panache, and the crackling sound of tension released like a gunshot. The thrilling central sequence, an action set-piece in a shopping mall that, zen-like, celebrates non-action, is already a classic: not to be missed.

Reviewer Score: 10

Reviewed by: Sasami
Date: 03/05/2002
Summary: Movie of many contrasts

It's hard to describe my feelings after watching this movie.

It was slow paced, yet action packed.

It was simple in plotline, and had barely any dialogue, but the characterization of the characters was ample.

It was subtle, yet to the point.

The plot couldn't be any simpler in this movie; 5 guys called in to protect a triad boss. And they do their job so well! The shoot-out scene at the empty mall was amazingly intense, even though the characters barely even moved. But it is the very subtle, everyday interaction between these 5 men that makes this movie memorable. A scene with an impromptu foot soccer game using a piece of balled-up paper provided an unexpected laugh.

I definitely recommend this movie (unless you're the most impatient of people), and I can't wait to fit in a second viewing myself.


Reviewed by: Sydneyguy
Date: 01/09/2002
Summary: Pretty good actually....

After watching this movie, again and again, i must rate this movie more highly. I think it's a movie where the more you watch, the more you like, and the more you pick up things from the movie you might of missed.

Well i won't say much since the other reviewers have said lots!!

Basically it is NOT a good movie, its GREAT!! All the actors are good in this. They aren't all that friendly either!! The plot/story is simplistic but that doesn't matter because the movie has STYLE!! Would you believe you can enjoy watching SLOW action?? Well this movie proves you can!! The action here is NOT like RAMBO where they just shoot at everybody, but more calcaluted and precise action. You'll know when you watch it!! The GREAT ending is like RESEVOIUR DOGS (i spelt that wrong hey)/ CITY ON FIRE and it's just great!! You just can't figure out whats going to happen!!

For me, the movie was about 1 hour 22 minutes. Long enough i guess and worth watching!! It will entertain!!

The benchmark for all crime movies. I compare all crime movies to this one when i review.

10 out of 10

Reviewer Score: 10

Reviewed by: nomoretitanic
Date: 11/29/2001
Summary: sounds bad on paper looks good on screen

I bought a copy of The Mission while I was in Taiwan this summer. It was in a VCD format, dubbed in mandarin. I was always reluctant to watch dubbed movies, especially mandarin dubs, they could ruin the experiences (those Stephen Chow mandarin dubs for example.)

Good thing The Mission didn't have much dialogue.

It was a relaxed experience, knowing everything that would happen between point a and b but not knowing how exactly to get there.

This is what a rollercoaster ride is, not The Rock, not Top Gun, this. You know the beginning and you know how it'd end, still you allow yourself to be manipulated, to be taken places.

This is a movie for genre fans. The storytelling is so smooth and so quick because Johnnie To knows "the essence" so well. He can film a fat man eating his spaghetti and somehow you feel like you know this man. The characters in this movie exist as types, not real people, just characters with quirks and lines. But it doesn't matter, we've seen so much we can fill in the blank.

Minimalism in action movies haven't had it this good since Unforgiven.

Hey, here's a fill in the blank for ya: Johnnie To kicks a lot of ___.

Peace


Reviewed by: Trigger
Date: 11/20/2001
Summary: Eh... It's Allright...

Anthony Wong plays a low-rent Chow Young Fat in this Reservoir Dogs type flick. A gangster boss has a price on his head and he enlists the help of 5 of the best bodyguards for protection. They quickly become a tight group and throw alot of bullets around. When the job is finished, there is some unfinished business and one of the 5 has to die. There is a stand-off - who will survive?

It's a fairly predictable film with one of the worst transfers I've seen and one of the worst music tracks I've heard. It's like somebody didn't clean the machine that does the transfers or something because there was a burn-in of something on the print. The print also looked like it came from analog tape media because there was alot of color bleeding. It was also pretty grainy. The subtitles were easy to read though and it was in widescreen & original aspect ratio... non-anamorphic though. The music for the film was terrible - it sounded like someone screwing around with a Casio keyboard. Very distracting from what could've otherwise been a pretty decent flick. The characters were pretty interesting for the most part and I really enjoyed the way they played off of each other. I also liked the tactics they used for the shootout scenes. The plot was nothing special, but it was quite solid and provided a good backdrop for these characters to interact. It did manage to entertain me.

Mei Ah did a lousy job with the transfer (if it's their fault) not just with the video, but the sound as well for the 5.1 track - the sound kept dropping out when something loud would happen. This is really annoying and I had to listen to the 2.0 track cuz I couldn't even tolerate the constant drops of sound. They did give this disc a few features that they omit on other discs, so it's not a total loss - but I would've rather had a barebones disc with burned-in subs and a decent transfer. Mei Ah is a mixed bag.

Overall I have to give this one a reluctant but just barely. I was entertained and it's worth seeing. I don't know what it is with Anthony Wong though - I don't know why someone thinks he's such a badass - he doesn't look like one... perhaps he's HK's Charles Bronson? I kinda expected a little more polish and snap from Johnny To though.

Rental

Reviewer Score: 6

Reviewed by: mehaul
Date: 07/04/2001

More style than plot, but what’s wrong with that. It’s worked for 20+ bond movies. Story line is adequate and acting is excellent.
8/10

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: runo_jp
Date: 06/11/2001
Summary: the mission

Johnny To at his best : how to make a good movie out of a script of half a page!
Strong cast. Cinematography at its best. Sharp editing. Still here? Go and see this movie!
8/10

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: MilesC
Date: 02/13/2001
Summary: I've never entirely rewritten a review before....

But I couldn't let my just-pretty-good review stay here. Many films make less sense and become more meaningless the more thought you give them; what might've initially seemed deeply meaningful often turns out to be empty style. The Mission is a rare genre film that rewards repeated viewings and close scrutiny.

What is most remarkable about The Mission is its minimalist, stripped-down approach to everything. This may initially have been a function of the budget, (reportedly US $330,000)but instead of trying to make up for his limited budget with self-conscious camerawork and flashy performances, To opted for a minimalist approach to not only the action scenes, (which are innovative for the slow pace at which they unfold)locations(it seems to have largely been based around whatever a certain realty company would let them use) and cast, (talented but B-list budget choices in the leads, few scenes with extras)but even the story and character development, which are presented with remarkably minimal dialogue. Character relations are established in very subtle ways for an "action" movie; a gesture, a glance, even the characters' position in the frame.

Maybe I'm making The Mission sound like a dull art movie. It's not. It's as "cool" a gangster pic as anyone could ask for; you'll find the (minimalist, of course) synth soundtrack running through your head, you'll find yourself moving like Roy Cheung and glaring like Francis Ng. Am I reading too much into the movie because it's an award-winner from the man who is probably my favorite director anywhere? Maybe. Many may find the movie dull or a letdown on first viewing; I myself was disappointed with my first impression of the movie, which was positive but didn't live up to the hype. Still, The Mission is a film that rewards the effort you put into it.


Reviewed by: hellboy
Date: 09/11/2000

The Mission ends up being more than the sum of its parts. Like stated in previous reviews the story is lackluster. What makes this a great film are the characters that populate its universe and the little quirks that make this a film about five relating to each other. You can tell Johnny To wanted to transcend the genre by concentrating less on action and more on how the story is told. To has culled almost all unecessary scenes and left much for the viewer to piece together leaving little or no exposition. Consequently the movie plays much better after a second watching. All the actors give great reserved performances, which is pretty amazing considering Francis Ng and Anthony Wong have a bad habit of chewing scenery. Liked the guitar part of the soundtrack but the brassy intro theme was just too repetitive at times. The paper wad soccer scene is excellent. 8/10

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: David Harris
Date: 06/09/2000

Review courtesy of Hong Kong Superstars (www.hksmag.co.uk)

In the last issue (HKS Mag 9) I reviewed Director Johnnie To's "Running Out Of Time". Now it's the turn of his follow up "The Mission" - believe it or not these films BOTH hit the cinemas in Hong Kong in the last 4 months of 1999 !

Whilst "Running Out Of Time" was the bigger hit by far this is in this reviewers opinion the better film. The script is much more consistent and the performers between them cook up one of the best ensemble performances I've ever seen in a Hong Kong film.

The story isn't really anything you won't have heard before (a group of gangsters protecting a boss) but it is more detailed than is usual and is well structured. The lack of any greatly significant storyline would usually be a mark against a film but in this case the talent on both sides of the camera make up for the "deficit".

Johnnie To is without doubt one of the pre-eminent directors currently working in Hong Kong and this film sets his reputation in stone. It is a tremendous directorial performance - he really manages to take you into the gangsters world via some fluid & intimate yet unobtrusive camerawork.

The cast is a collection of most of the best character actors in Hong Kong - Simon Yam , Anthony Wong , Francis Ng , Roy Cheung (Big Brother from "Beast Cops") and Eddie Ko ("Lethal Weapon 4" - the guy that gets Murtaugh's watch). The only guy "missing" is Johnnie To regular Lau Ching Wan !

They all perform at their absolute best and it could be considered unfair to single out any one performance for commendation but I shall anyway seeing as this actor doesn't usually get the recognition due to him - Roy Cheung. He gives a very convincing performance throughout and this is particularly noticeable in the films final reel (I shan't spoil it for you).

Anthony Wong plays yet another crazy character (this time he's a cool yet murderous hairdresser). Another aspect of the film that contributes to its success is the cool (almost jazz like at times) score - it would make a great CD if it isn't one already !

There isn't much in the way of light relief in the film other than the twice used gag (equally funny both times) of an exploding cigarette. It's not joke of the year or anything but in the context of an otherwise straight film it's very amusing.

The premier scene in the film is a stunning shootout in a shopping arcade. There is little dialogue , completely silent sequences and only sporadic gunfire but it is very tense and exciting scene due to the skills of both cast and director.

Gangster films are not exactly a rarity and it takes something very special to make this particular strand of Hong Kong film seem fresh and exciting and this film does that in great style and is recommended without reservation.


Reviewed by: magic-8
Date: 02/24/2000
Summary: Exercise in Technique

"The Mission" is a prime example of a director using his craft to tell a simple story well. I liken this Johnnie To film in many ways to Akira Kurosawa's "Sanjuro." The story is deceptively simple and the action is part and parcel to the plot. The narrative is straightforward and the action is well executed. Five individuals (former Triad members) are recruited to bodyguard a Traid leader. No hyper-realized slo-motion or excessive squib work. The tone of the film is the same as the demeanor of the bodyguards depicted in the film, professional and capable. To appears to be "in the groove" when it comes to being a storyteller, letting the viewer decide the moral outcome, leaving the good vs bad up to us. After all, the bodyguards in this movie are protecting a Traid leader; they are obligated to do things that fall in the gray areas of society; and they are killers. Do we like these characters, or are they all evil? Eddie Ko as the Triad leader is portrayed in a sympathetic light. You'd think he was a corporate executive instead of a criminal, with Simon Yam as his right-hand man.

The choreography and the acting are solid throughout. The gunfights propel the story and actually help to define the characters, and its good to see Anthony Wong in a restrained performance.

Johnnie To is one of the more accomplished Hong Kong directors working today. His style is unfolding as a storyteller not bound by the traps of contemporary convention to quick-cut edit or to use special f/X in place of a story. His films are character-driven, which gives the viewer incentive to become emotionally involved. A method also used by directors like Ringo Lam, but To is more romantic as opposed to Lam's grittiness. Besides that, Johnnie To's one of the more productive directors today, and most of all, consistently solid.


Reviewed by: ryan
Date: 11/21/1999
Summary: Mission, The (1999)

It's a bit of a surprise, director Jonnie TO getting three films released this year. Following the Milkyway Image productions strategy review, they released Jonnie TO's 'Where a Good Man Goes' in May and 'Running Out of Tme' in September. Now we have 'The Mission', casting Anthony WONG Chau-sang and Francis NG Chun-yu, who are generally seen as good actors.

'The Mission' is about a group of bodyguards, namely Curtis (Anthony WONG Chau-sang), Shin (LUI Chung-yin), Roy (Francis NG Chun-yu), Mike (Roy CHEUNG Yiu-yeung) and Joe (LAM Suet). The five men come from different generations in the triads. They are hired by Frank (Simon YAM Tak-wah) to protect his brother Mr. HUNG (KO Hung), the triad head.

The bodyguards come under sniper fire from their first night on duty. They all take their jobs seriously, but one day Curtis is given a new mission to kill Shin, who has been in love with the triad head's wife. But Roy is determined to shield his buddy Shin ....

As the release gap between 'Running Out of Time' and 'The Mission' is less than 2 months, the comparison is inevitable. The plot of 'The Mission' is simple in comparison, even a bit straightforward. All you see is the group doing their jobs, working for Frank to protect Mr. HUNG, with no attention paid to their backgrounds. The job itself is also very simple.

However, the movie is a fantastic achievement by the director, scriptwriter and cinematographer. All of them are sharp and slick. They have lots of chances to 'show off' their skills.

The most interesting thing of the movie is the use of cinematography to present the gun fighting. In one scene where they battle another group of killers, there's a wide angle shot showing all five spread around a shopping arcade in different firing positions. That scene is really remarkable. In addition, the using of long zoom shots from far away to very close works extremely well on screen.

Milkyway Image productions always imply some underlying meaning or mood in their movies. This time they give a feeling of crisis. It starts when Curtis gets the mission to kill Shin and Roy decides to shield his buddy.

However, the ending is much more upbeat than before so the audience will feel happy about it.

Looking at the actors, both Anthony WONG Chau-sang and Francis NG Chun-yu are sharp. But what surprised me most is the performance of LAM Suet. LAM Suet was introduced in previous Mikyway Image previous productions like 'The Longest Nite'. This time he plays a good guy and gets a bigger role than he's had before.

In summary, 'The Mission' is a movie based on how five men work together as bodyguards to for a triad head. The plot is straightforward, but the direction and cinematography are fantastic. This is one of the quality productions of the year.