Johnnie To’s films are becoming increasingly genre-defying—avant garde almost—and 2003’s Throw Down evokes the woozy sensation of being trapped inside a smoke-filled Karaoke bar listening to people sing in a foreign tongue. It’s strange, funny, intimate, and irritating, which is probably why To has the show clock in at less than 90 minutes. Though it’s dedicated to Akira Kurosawa and claims allegiance to Sanjuro, this film about the “world of Judo” may as well have been inspired by Singin’ in the Rain, not just because most of the action—or, rather, non-action—is impeccably timed to its incessant score by Peter Kam but because To’s fluid direction is slippery when wet. The film’s three main characters—a judo-champion-turned-nightclub-owner, Sze-To (Louis Koo); an eager upstart, Tony (Aaron Kwok), itching for a fight; and an aspiring singer, Mona (Cherrie Jones), attempting to evade prostitution—converge almost wordlessly, each introduced as if they were chords in a song working their way through a captivating crescendo of smoky encounters, recurrent dramatic and comedic refrains (a scene with Tony and Mona hiding inside a bathroom stall typifies To’s heady sense of humor), and building toward some impossible climax—one, in this case, that I’m not sure ever comes. The film is something of a love story, not just between the three leads but between To and his actors: From Sze-To reaching out to wipe Tony’s brow to Mona fleeing from a nightclub and picking up Sze-To’s lost shoe, every gesture evokes buried emotions and To’s camerawork not only jives with the hesitancy, frustration, and affection implicit in these movements but echoes them as well. When they don’t appear to be sliding off of To’s sometimes oblique angles, these characters are guided by the trippy female grunts frequently heard on the soundtrack. The story itself is oblique to the point of distraction, but even as it begins to sober up sometime past its midway point, Throw Down remains a compelling remix of aesthetic showmanship and human movement.
- 90 min
- Johnnie To
- Johnnie To
- Aaron Kwok, Louis Koo, Cherrie Ying, Tony Leung Ka Fai, Cheung Siu-Fai, Calvin Choi, Hoi-Pang Lo
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