Running on Karma (2003)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2010-09-20
Lee Fung Yee is a detective with a problem. She is promoted from a squad doing small-time morals enforcement--busting male strippers who get completely naked--to the elite CID bureau. On her very first mission with her new colleagues she leaves the camera they were using to record the bloody aftermath of a murder at the crime scene. The head of the CID makes her get out of the car on a freeway ramp to walk back and retrieve the camera. There is good news, though: she has a helper. Unfortunately he is the male stripper she just arrested , a bodybuilder former monk who suffers from horrific, paralyzing visions and who gets deported to Shenzhen whenever he is caught.

His visions are real nightmare stuff--World War II era Japanese soldiers killing with sword, clubbed rifle and bayonet including baby-skewering and beheadings. It seems clear almost immediately that he is looking at the rape of Nanjing. Big, the monk, has these hallucinations whenever he looks at Lee Fung Yee during or after some pulse pounding police action. He realizes he is being told that one of the squad will die and that a woman will die. It is only later, after some meditation and a conference with the blind abbot of his former monastery that he puts the two together.

He is seeing the past and therefore the inescapable future of Lee. Even though she is, as she says, nothing special--an average student at an average school who, despite her academic shortcomings was allowed to apply for the police force, an average officer in a law enforcement backwater who gets a coveted assignment to an elite squad, an ordinary person who has an extraordinary companion who chases and captures criminals, turning them over to her to be arrested. Lee has a charmed life.

But of course she doesn't since she is caught on the wheel of karma and the turn of the wheel that represents this lifetime will be coming to a stop soon. A past life was one of grotesque barbarity and cruelty; she will be paying for it in this one and if she is able to perform some wholesome actions along the way (she does by forgiving the person who murdered her in another past life) she has a chance to move closer to a wholesome state.

My understanding of this Johnny To/Wai Ka Fai chaotic masterpiece is that a couple of weeks of this life of a person whose recent incarnations have been filled with fear, pain and despair and who, with the help of a former monk who must have become a Bodhisattva has a chance in her next incarnation to be back on the path to enlightenment. A Bodhisattva is a being who forgoes Nirvana out of compassion for the struggles of others. Big meditating for seven days in front of the body of a sparrow he accidentally killed and then wordlessly dropping his robes and heading into the city is a tip-off to his near Nirvana status. And that the murdered Jade was Lee in a former life (a blameless life that ended in great suffering) is the case simply because it must be.

This is a very narrow interpretation of "Running on Karma" and, as can be seen from the other reviews here, it is a lot more than a bit of Buddhism among the cops and robbers. Andy Lau is terrific. Some of the stunts are priceless--for example when he hops on a small scooter to follow Lee and runs it straight into a brick wall without turning or even slowing down. While the rest of the scooter chase went on for too long (one of the very few obvious problems with the movie) it started with a hilarious piece of business. Big showing his martial arts prowess by keeping a single Kleenex floating in the air by kicking and punching near it was brilliantly carried off and the way it ended, with him cutting the tissue in half with a kick and having both halves continue to float was perfect.

It is all but a two-hander between Andy Lau and Cecilia Cheung. There are some bumbling cops, some gruff but lovable cops, a few standard issue monks complete with a blind abbot whose affliction allows him to see into the heart of things, a bunch of happy-go-lucky mainland hookers who get deported in the morning and come back to Hong Kong at night. A couple in intriguing villains simply disappear. The chemistry between the leads is all that is really important.
Reviewer Score: 9