Friday, October 18, 2013

THROW DOWN (2004) - Johnnie To

Johnnie To's more nuanced take on the standard fight film. It's far from a feel-good Rocky story. Even further from The Karate Kid. If I had to put a label on it, I'd call it his Fat City.

Louis Koo plays an ex-Judo champ who "used to be somebody" but now drinks WAY TOO MUCH and routinely turns down offers from younger protégés to get him back on the mat. He always turns down ambitious singer-prostitutes begging him to sing at his failing club. Simply put, he no longer has the interest in much of anything. But he's nice enough to let these hangers-on tag along with him on his haphazard, drunken missions to steal briefcases full of cash from local mobsters.  Only when Koo's old trainer dies and the trainer's mentally challenged son is left on his own does Koo finally begin practicing his takedowns again. Mind you, this doesn't happen until the last ten minutes of the film.

Yes, it's THAT type of fight movie, and there's nothing wrong with that. There are definitely a few well-choreographed scraps between other characters along the way. But To seems to know that withholding the fight we're all waiting on is, in this type of film, the cleverest strategy to take. When it does finally come, it's a doozy, taking place at night in a field of six foot tall reeds as the old trainer's son belts a karaoke tune into the night sky. Here To seems to be solidifying a distinct action drama style all his own, the same style he would put to great use soon afterwards in Breaking News, Election, Triad Election, and Exiled (not co-directing with Wai Ka-Fai might have something to do with it). Like his fallen Judo boozer, it might have taken To a while to get around to it. But when he finally does commit, he delivers an artfully punishing blow.

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