Dir: Johnnie To
Star: Johnny Hallyday, Anthony Wong, Lam Ka-Tung, Simon Yam

A brutal assault on a French-Chinese family living in Macau leaves them all dead, except the mother, who is in a near-coma. Her father, Francis Costello (Hallyday), goes out to the former colony to investigate, and stumbles across a hit being carried out by a trio of Triad members, led by Kwai (Wong), at the order of Goerge Fung (Yam). Rather than reporting them to the police, he offers to hire them, if they can find out who was responsible for the attack, despite only the barest of information which the daughter is able to provide. The trail leads the four men from Macau to Hong Kong, then back to Macau, and ends up closer to home than is comfortable. Meanwhile, Costello is struggling with a degenerative mental condition - the result of...could it be, a Bullet in the Head? - that impairs his memory and makes it increasingly hard to remember the purpose of his mission.

Johnnie To and Anthony Wong? Where do I sign up? And the results are almost as good as I'd hoped, though are somewhat hampered by the fact that most actors are working in their second languages. Fortunately, it's not a movie where dialogue is particularly important. Costello and Kwai are both men of few words: what they do have are a very particular set of skills; skills they have acquired over very long careers, shall we say. What they also have, in buckets, is screen presence, and I'd watch them simply sit opposite each other and eat (Costello is a former chef, so yeah, cooking does crop up). There are some times when style seems to overcome substance, especially in an action scene involving, I kid you not, giant cubes of waste paper, and the whole memory-loss thing is a tad too contrived to be credible. But for most of the time, To strikes a balance between emotion and action which is significantly in excess of 99% of genre entries. This feels like something John woo might have done; and that's Woo in his heyday, before he was ruined by Hollywood.

[March 2013]

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