Accident Review

Directed by: Pou-Soi Cheang
Written by: Kam-Yuen Szeto and Lik-Kei Tang
Starring: Louis Koo, Richie Ren, Shui-Fan Fung

If you wanted to get away with murder, then wouldn’t it make sense to make the person’s death seem like a bizarre accident? And if you could get away with murder, then wouldn’t being a high paid assassin seem like a reasonable lifestyle? This is the intriguing premise for the movie Accident. This movie goes further though by depicting what could happen if you were almost killed in an accident, and began suspecting someone was out to get you!

In 2009, “Accident” was selected to be shown at both the Venice and Toronto International Film Festivals. I understand that the director, Soi Cheang, is acquiring a solid reputation for his directorial style with ample backing from this film’s producer, Johnnie To, who has a directing reputation of his own. Despite these credentials, and the intriguing premise, I was unimpressed with this film. But I am willing to allow that the fault may lie with me and not the film. Let me explain. (I realize that movie critics sometimes react badly to a film because it’s not what they expected and they criticize it for that reason rather than assess a film for what it is.)

To create an accident that leaves no questions, it seems reasonable that you might string together a sequence of coincidental events that would make no one believe that all of it was planned. If you’re thinking that it might be difficult for one assassin on his own to stage an accident, then this film is one step ahead of you by having you work with three other assassins. To protect your identities, you would probably only want to use nicknames. So let’s call yourself Brain (Louis Koo). This is probably a bad nickname, because it identifies yourself as the brains of the operation, but maybe your lawyer could try to explain it as being meant ironically. :-) The other nicknames are better in that they’re descriptive, but they don’t indicate the role in the team: Fatty (Suet Lam), Uncle (Feng Tsui Fan), and Woman (Michelle Ye).

Now my first quibble has to do with your assembled team. From what is shown in the film, I don’t quite see the expertise that each member brings to the team although Uncle seems to have some technical expertise. Also the interactions between the members seem quite unprofessional and awkward. From the amount of money we see in Brain’s safe, we can suspect that Brain has been doing this successfully for a while. Granted, we don’t know how long this team has been together and that maybe the filmmakers wanted to establish Brain’s suspiciousness quickly. Perhaps the filmmakers were defying the convention of films to show awesome teams. Perhaps I wanted to see a Mission: Impossible type team doing bad things together.

As for the Rube Goldberg accidents shown in the film, I don’t think they’re clever at all. They’re too reliant on chance. Granted the film does show an accident that reasonably takes multiple attempts in order to accomplish. Maybe this does make the accident really seem like an accident. The accidents are filmed and edited with a certain flair, but I couldn’t help thinking that the accidents shown in the Final Destination films were done much better. Perhaps Death is a better coordinator than any human.

If you’re hoping to get some ideas from this movie about staging your own accidents, I’m afraid you’ll be out of luck. However, there is a neat trick about using helium balloons to block security cameras, although I think using this gimmick more than once might establish a pattern that would arouse suspicion. As far as other tricks you might learn from this movie, Brain uses the old “leaf in the doorjamb” cautionary measure. You’ll have to see the film if you don’t know what I’m referring to. (As a child, I saw a television show that had a kid who wanted to detect if a family member was borrowing something from his closet. So whenever he left his room, he would take a strand of his hair, lick it, and apply it across the side edge of the closet door and the door frame. When he returned, he would check if the hair was still stuck on the edge. If the hair was missing, he would know that someone had opened his closet door!)

I would be remiss if I failed to mention the other star actor, Richie Ren, who portrays an insurance agent that Brain suspects is out to get him. Brain’s point-of-view permeates the whole film, so the tension builds to the end of the film as the audience tries to figure out what is going on. Ren’s performance is appropriately low-key and since we are not privy to his machinations, much is left to the audience’s imagination. But I feel the film lacks suspense even as the mystery deepens, because I don’t feel Brain’s jeopardy is increasing as the film progresses. Perhaps this justifies the film’s ending though.

I must admit I wasn’t sure if I understood the end. I don’t think the film’s ending is meant to be ambiguous although I think there are several story aspects of the film that are intentionally left ambiguous. After perusing some film forums, it seems that I wasn’t alone in my confusion. Unfortunately, I guess no one wanted to spoil the film on the Internet and explain exactly what happened. In Hollywood, test screenings would probably reveal idiots like me and result in re-shoots to dumb down the material.

As an example of my inability to follow plot twists, I didn’t really experience the impact of the ending of Infernal Affairs. This is the Hong Kong movie that was remade by Martin Scorsese as The Departed. I wouldn’t be surprised if Scorsese has plans to remake Accident.

I have seen Soi Cheang’s two films previous to Accident: Shamo and Dog Bite Dog. He seems to prefer having visceral fights rather than stylized ones, but there aren’t really any fights in Accident. He tends to use odd camera placement, more so in Accident, I suppose, to emphasize the covert surveillance that is occurring in the film. The cinematography is somewhat murky on the DVD and supposedly the transfer on the Blu-ray doesn’t help the picture. Modern audiences might find the leisurely pacing of Accident to be maddening; however, the film is only 87 minutes long due to the film’s adherence to not get side-tracked from Brain’s point-of-view. Some people might actually enjoy the insight we get into Brain’s actions.

Louis Koo has done his fair share of movies as a romantic lead. In Accident, he’s pretty much insulated emotionally and his restrained performance has been praised. I don’t think his character is very enticing to watch, but I suppose it fits with the plot of this film.

I feel I should mention that according to IMDb, Suet Lam has been in 137 films to date, many of which I’ve probably seen by coincidence. I would love to have his career. He’s not especially handsome (and he does play Fatty in this film after all). I suppose he’s a solid performer, but I really would like to know why he’s so popular with casting directors or why directors seek him out.

Concerning the DVD and Blu-ray covers, the image used is quite bland. Brain is shown standing, looking dishevelled, staring expressionless at the camera, in nondescript, brown jacket, pants and running shoes. I suppose this is the kind of image an assassin would want to project, but as an image used to sell a movie, it could stand improvement. But I also suppose that the filmmakers should be congratulated for not trying to glamorize the film beyond what it essentially is: a character study.

So you might have intuited some defensiveness on my part with regards to my non-appreciation of this film. Please treat anything I have written plot-wise in this review as not necessarily correct since I wouldn’t want to taint your viewing experience if you haven’t seen the film and find the premise intriguing enough to see the film despite my reservations. After you have seen the film, we can surely agree to call this film a “perfect crime” movie, but not necessarily a perfect “crime movie.” — Reed

SCORE: 1.5 stars

  • Reed. As a big fan of Suet Lam myself, I highly recommend Johnnie To’s PTU in which he gets more or less the lead role of the film. Good film too.

    Also, Lam as probably played more than a Dozen character either named or nicknamed “Fatty” – I’m chalking this up to the Chinese sense of humour about this sort of thing.

  • p.s. I also found the middle section of ACCIDENT rather muddled and uninvolving. OF course I was over 35 films into TIFF in 2009 when I caught it, and wasn’t operating with all my faculties. However, my impression of the filmmaking was not strong enough to bother to track it down and re-watch the thing.

    It’s interesting that Soi Cheang’s next film, Motorway, looks like a cross between Fast & The Furious and SpeedRacer, and apparently much of the vehicle stuff was done one real streets with precious little permit to do so. This would be in keeping with his ‘viseral’ staging of the car accidents in Accident, but likely removing anything that slows down the ‘image’/speed of the film.

  • projectgenesis

    Interestingly enough, 3 or 4 years ago my 64 year-old Dad made a seemingly throw away comment that there should be a movie about a “Final Destination-type-of-hitman”—I thought it was shockingly good idea. And now it exists! Thanks for bringing this to my attention, Reed. I will check it out.

  • @Kurt PTU is one of those movies that I’ve avoided seeing only because I haven’t heard anything about it and I’m not much of a Johnnie To fan. Thx for reading my review, and posting your informative comments.

    @projectgenesis The distributor will be happy to know that I at least made one sale for them. :-)

  • Kurt

    PTU was the movie that made me a Johnnie To fan.

  • Kwing Lan Au Yeung

    A big part of Accident relies on a buy-in involving Brain, specifically his reasons for directing his attention to Fong. To me, it seemed like he made a huge leap in logic and really had no discernible reason for following the line of reasoning that he does. As I watched the film, I kept asking the same question: why is Brain fixated on this person?

    Even though the film is told from his perspective, I felt we never got inside Brain’s head so we never learn what his reasons are for suspecting Fong. It’s as though he sees Fong, decides that’s who the mastermind is for no reason whatsoever, and starts to plot around that assumption. That’s dramatically weak because you now have a character who behaves in a way that seems to have no proper motivation or justification.

    Brain’s actions seem to fall under the tired and used far too often ‘If he doesn’t act that way then we have no movie’ excuse. That doesn’t fly and is an exceptionally cheap way to move the plot along. We need to have some idea of why Brain thinks the way he does for the story to work–but we don’t so it doesn’t.

    Thumbs down for this movie.