The Mission (To, 1999)

While Throwdown and Running Out of Time relish in their own schizophrenic identities, Johnnie To’s The Mission functions wonderfully as a concise and brutal thriller concerning five bodybuards/killers protecting a powerful yakuza. Very reminiscent of Michael Mann’s best work, The Mission curtails traditional character setup (it’s done briefly in one, virtuoso montage before the opening credit sequence), instead allowing all five men to develop while working, and talking with one another on the job. To jumps back and forth between this evolving, convincing friendship and a series of attempts on the old gangster’s life, which grow in intensity as we feel more connected to the players. Not only is there a sense of immediacy for the character’s safety, but To frames these astounding shootouts with a quiet professionalism, a love for the job in a sense, that deafens the gunfire and chaos. One such scene in a large shopping mall becomes the apex of To’s approach, finding all five bodyguards and their boss moving down a long escalator, only to become attacked as the house lights dim around them. It’s the best action scene I’ve seen in a To film, not only because it transcends his typical use of darkness when showing mass violence, but because it’s action is seeped in character, story, and tension. The Mission ranks right up along side To’s Election films, but it will always have a special place in his canon for being a succinct, restrained and convincingly potent film about hierarchies and the harsh and bloody consequences they can bring to close friendships.

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