The Mission ***1/2 (out of 5) (1999)

Cast: Anthony Wong, Francis Ng, Simon Yam, Roy Cheung, Jackie Lui

Directed by Johnny To 

With so many bad films coming out of Hong Kong in the latter half of the 90s, one can be thankful for director Johnny To for being one of the few to overcome all obstacles and make well-directed and skillfully developed films.  THE MISSION ranks as one of his best, showcasing an all-star cast of Hong Kong actors and working once again with his favorite writer, Nai-Hoi Yau (RUNNING OUT OF TIME, WHERE A GOOD MAN GOES, LIFELINE, NEEDING YOU, etc....all with To as director).  And To proves that a film doesn't have to clock over two hours to be memorable, with most of his films coming in at under 90 minutes.  Voted Best Picture by the Hong Kong Film Critics Society, THE MISSION is definitely a film to seek out by those disillusioned by the schlock coming out of late.

The film's storyline involves a failed assassination attempt on Lung, a Hong Kong mob boss with many enemies.  He hires five new bodyguards to safeguard his life while trying to find who was behind the assassination attempt, but keeping Lung alive proves a challenge for the motley crew of thugs, who find loyalties put to the test by their own diverse ways.

THE MISSION does start off a bit slow, but kicks into high gear with it's first riveting shootout and never misses a beat until the exciting end.  Very good performances by Ng, Wong, and Yam keeps the energy level up, while To shows mastery of setting up the action with excellent use of "little touches" that provide moments of interest as well as subtle character development  to make them truly exciting.  The storyline is simple and in no way revolutionary, as it does lift a bit from well-known Samurai and Yakuza films, yet is done with such efficiency that the film flat out works.  THE MISSION injects much needed life in the Hong Kong gangster genre, and one can only hope the other directors in the field stop trying to make 90 minutes of ugly images mixed with over-the-top stunts  and start making interesting stories with engaging characters again.  

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