Soi Cheang’s “Accident” – Film Comment Selects 2010 Review

“Accident,” the latest film by Hong Kong director Soi Cheang, seems on its surface to be very different from his previous two features “Dog Bite Dog” and “Shamo.” Gone are the gritty, grimy landscapes of those previous films, replaced by the slick, moodily noirish visuals of “Accident.” This is very much a function of the fact that with his new film, Cheang is working with Hong Kong genre-film master Johnnie To’s Milkyway Image production company, and “Accident” looks very much like other films released under this label.  Even a few of To’s regular actors are featured here, including lead actor Louis Koo.  However, as apparent as To’s influence is in this film, “Accident” remains remarkably consistent thematically with Cheang’s other films, since it too expresses an overwhelming sense of fatalism, its characters trying desperately and failing to escape what destiny has in store for them.

“Accident”’s protagonist, a man (Louis Koo) known only as “Brain,” has been dealt an especially harsh hand by fate: he is haunted by the death of his wife (Monica Mok) in an apparent car accident, which he believes to be anything but.  He carries around her smashed wristwatch as a talisman and imagines that she is still with him when he returns to his apartment each evening.  Brain works as an unusual sort of contract killer; he stages his murders in elaborate setups designed to look like accidents.  To this end, he has hired a small crew to help him stage these “accidents”: a woman (Michelle Ye), Fatty (Lam Suet), and Uncle (Stanley Fung).  One of this group’s hits, targeting a Triad boss, forms the wonderfully choreographed opening scene, one of the bravura sequences we have come to expect from Johnnie To’s productions.  Involving feigned car trouble, a forced traffic jam, falling store signage, a finally a fatal plate of glass, it is a beautifully staged murder which can’t help but make the rest of the film somewhat of a let down. 

However, “Accident” does deepen this high-concept scenario by turning it into a psychological portrait of its main character, who because of his profession believes there are truly no such things as accidents, and who allows his suspicion and paranoia to overwhelm him.  Brain’s existential crisis goes into overdrive when one of his assignments comes to a disastrous end with the death a member of his crew, and he becomes convinced that Fong (Richie Ren), is somehow involved with it.  Brain shadows him and plants surveillance equipment in his apartment, and eventually comes to suspect the surviving members of his crew.

While “Accident,” written by Szeto Kam Yuen and Nicholl Tang, is a worthy attempt to marry the downbeat, despairing mood of his previous films with Johnnie To-style genre mechanics, it isn’t an entirely successful one.  It feels less personal and somewhat of a step backward for Cheang, who began his career as an assistant director to To.  Still, it is an entertaining, above-average Milkyway production, although it stops short of being much more than that.