The Mission (1999)
Reviewed by: MrBooth on 2006-07-25
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.

Reviewer Score: 10

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