The Mission (1999)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2005-08-01
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