On the Run (1988)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2005-08-07
Summary: As good a crime drama as you will see
In the universe created by Alfred Cheung in “On the Run”, if killer for hire Chiu (brilliantly portrayed by Pat Ha) targets you there are two choices: wait until she show up and shoots you in the middle of the forehead or commit suicide. Choosing the latter will at least allow you to decide the manner and time of your departure, but there is no hope of escaping with your life.

The coming handover and the feelings of anomie and dislocation it causes among Hong Kong residents looms over all the action. Yuen Biao plays Heung Ming, a moral cop who only wants to be able to emigrate to the U. S. His ticket out is his wife—they are in the process of divorcing, but if they put that on hold she can sponsor him after she arrives in the United States. For reasons made known later in the movie, his wife is shot by a professional assassin in a restaurant a few minutes after Ming leaves her table.

The Hong Kong police force is unbelievably corrupt and evil in “On the Run”. Entire divisions are wiped out by competing divisions in a race to acquire enough money to emigrate before 1997. The only people killed are police officers or innocent victims, although an entire barroom full of criminals may have been done away with off camera. The most common method of dispatch is gunfire, generally one well placed shot to the head. Blood spurts from temples and foreheads throughout the movie. Those who aren’t shot are stabbed, beaten to death, thrown from a high window, run over by a truck, slashed with a machette or suffocated while in hospital. Most of the deaths are shown in detail—a bullet entering one temple and exiting the other for example.

The hitwoman played by Pat Ha is the only character who isn’t motivated by a desire to quit Hong Kong—she is an overseas Chinese, living in a village in the Golden Triangle. Actually she doesn’t seem to be motivated by anything—she kills for money but given her the skill, tenacity, and unwavering resolve she should have been able to retire a long time ago. This character works, though, because when she does develop a soft spot for Ming and his daughter it doesn’t contradict anything we know about her—all we know is that she always gets her man or woman, generally with one shot and always escapes.

There is one important point upon which the latter half to the movie hinges that simply could not happen in a U.S. produced movie. In Hong Kong violence and death are inflicted across the board, including upon those who are truly innocent—which is much closer to how things happen off the screen.

Even though the cast is filled with martial arts veterans, there is no hand to hand combat until the last scene. And that scene is extremely well done--you (almost) know who has to win and who has to lose but the combatants are equally enough matched so that even after a lot of shooting, slashing, stabbing, eye gouging, kicking and other ways of inflicting pain on each other the outcome still seems in doubt.

Peter Ngor’s did a wonderful job lighting and shooting the movie. While some of the cinematography calls attention to itself—framing Pat Ha and Yuen Biao in a window for instance, every scene—probably every shot—looks great. There is the usual neon-washed night but generally the palette Ngor and Cheung used is very dark, reflecting the bleak harshness of the script.

Reviewer Score: 8