Saturday, May 31, 2008

Jason watches some Johnnie To--"The Mission" and "Fulltime Killer"

As I mentioned in a previous post, there's a Johnnie To series playing for about a month at the Pacific Film Archives. This is the first time in a few years I've been to the PFA for a non-film festival screening (AsianFest and the International Festival play movies there). But now I've decided to become a member and keep a closer watch on what's playing there.

But first, I want to gripe a bit about the BART. You see, the first movie was started at 6:30. It's a 45 minute trip on BART from Fremont to downtown Berkeley, then about a 5-10 minute walk/run to the PFA. I got to BART about 5:10, in plenty of time to catch the train that would get me there at 6:00. There was a train waiting there, but it was bound for San Francisco, not where I wanted to go. I wanted the Richmond bound train, and there was one scheduled in two minutes--perfect. Or so I thought, because as the San Francisco train pulled away, there was an announcement that there were no direct Fremont to Richmond trains, and if you need to go to stations on the Richmond line, take the San Francisco train and transfer about 4 stations up. Thanks for telling me! For that matter, thank you driver for taking off with no announcement, you can see people waiting in the station and you're the only train they can take!

Anyway, no problem, I could catch the next SF train, as long as there wasn't a long wait or a long transfer, I could still make it to Berkeley in plenty of time. So I got on the next train, which showed up 20 minutes later (so now I have exactly 10 minutes to walk up from the BART to the PFA, if everything runs on schedule). So the train craaaaawls through the first couple of stations, and finally gets to the transfer point at Bay Fair. There I get off, and I can see another train waiting for the station, just behind us. Must be the Richmond train, I'm still in good shape. I was right, it was the Richmond train I saw. But it waited there at 2 more San Francisco trains passed through! Are you fucking kidding me?! I eventually had to run as fast as I could from the BART to the PFA, and was still 20 minutes late. To the people running BART--and for that matter, all people working in public transit: The reason people don't use public transit is because they have places they're trying to get to and you are completely fucking unreliable!

Incidentally, when I got home late that night, I saw there were fliers in the Fremont BART station explaining that there was an electrical fire a couple of weeks ago between Fremont and Hayward, and so at certain times some lines might not run. As a result, you should add about 10 minutes to your expected trip time. 10 minutes? It took me over an hour and a half to take a 45 minute trip.

Okay, on to the movies. Of course, I missed the beginning of "The Mission", and talking to people afterwards I heard that I missed Anthony Wong cutting hair (and he's so cool, I have to believe he even made that cool) and a scene where they lock a guy in a trunk. By the time I got in, the team of 5 friends/bodyguards are already hired to protect a triad boss. There are frequent attempts on his life from the rival gang, and these serve as sharp, exciting exclamation points for the movie. But it's really held together by the quiet moments of downtime and horseplay among the friends. Whether they're hiding match heads in cigarettes (so they flare up briefly, surprising the smoker) or just playing impromptu soccer with a wadded up piece of paper, it's the easy camaraderie of cool guys being cool that makes this all work. In the end, of course, their loyalty is put to the test, and of course no matter what happens there will be action and cool guys. Lots of fun.

Then I finally caught my breath before the second movie. "Fulltime Killer" might've been the first Johnnie To film I ever saw, when it played at the SF International Film Festival way back in 2002. So I'll reach waaaaaay back into my archives and see what I wrote then:
"Fulltime Killer." If you're a fan of action movies and you haven't seen any of the plethora of hyperkinetic Hong Kong action flicks, well then you aren't a really fan of action movies. This is a great standard bearer of the genre, an action flick by and for people who love action flicks. The plot is bare-bones simplicity. There's an old professional assassin, the best in the business who charges the highest fees. Then there's an up-and-coming young assassin. Very skilled, but unnecessarily flashy, he pulls tricks like throwing a bag full of fake grenades at his target, then throwing one real one, and letting the target search all the fake ones trying to find the real one. Anyway, the young, flashy upstart is tired of working for chump change, and wants to take out the old professional and become the worlds greatest assassin, with all the fame and glory. He's also a huge fan of action movies, from all countries, and makes allusions to other action flicks all throughout the film. So playing, 'Spot the Reference' is half of the fun. I got most of them: "Point Break," " Leon: the Professional," "El Mariachi." There was also a reference to "Crying Freeman" which I know about but have never seen. And there was a reference to an obscure french film that I didn't get. But I think that's intentional, as later a character yells at him about how he looked all over and couldn't find the movie he was talking about. Anyway, the movie moves briskly through a few double-crosses, to the eventual showdown. By that time, they have so much respect for each other that they're drinking and joking together, just killing time before they kill each other. The final showdown is a warehouse, with weapons hidden in it patterned after a video game they both like. This is the kind of fun sensibility this movie has. It seems nowadays so many action movies are trying to take the genre in a new direction, which is a good thing (too many action movies just feel stale and uninspired). This one prefers to celebrate the old directions, and ends up being a flawless piece of good ol' fun.
Yeah, I'll stick by that review. And I'll add that the love interest was also important (there's a love triangle between the old assassin "O", his housekeeper, and the young assassin). I'll also add that the young assassin is played by Andy Lau, who co-produced this movie, and he's cool as hell (it seems hard to believe, but 2002 might've been so long ago that I didn't know who Andy Lau was?)

Anyway, other than public transit frustrations, it was a good night. And the series continues all through June. I'll miss a lot of it for Holehead and then a week-long family reunion, but I'll be back for at least a couple more days of it.

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