A self-styled accident choreographer, Brain (Louis Koo, in one of the most compelling performances of his career) is a professional hit man who kills his victims by trapping them in well crafted accidents that look like unfortunate mishaps but are in fact perfectly staged acts of crime. He is perennially plagued with guilt, as the avalanche of memories of his lost wife does not make things any easier.
After one mission inexplicably goes wrong, costing the life of one of his men, Brain becomes convinced that this accident has been choreographed: someone is out there plotting to terminate him and his team. He becomes increasingly paranoid, not knowing whether or not to trust his friends and accomplices.
When he discovers that a mysterious insurance agent named Fong (Richie Jen, 'Exiled') is somehow related to the last staged accident, Brain becomes obsessed that this man must be the mastermind behind a conspiracy to take him out. To regain his sanity and to save his life, he must stay one step ahead of Fong before he makes his next move. Brain rents an apartment below Fong’s, bugs the rooms, then becomes obsessed with the insurance man’s comings and goings. Eventually reality and delusion blur, culminating in a wickedly twisted ending.
Unfounded paranoia, an overwhelming sense of suspicion, and a debilitating persecution complex furnish the stylish Hong Kong import 'Accident.' There's a great deal to appreciate and admire in this psychological thriller about one man's journey into self-deprecating delusions and grand conspiracies. That may seem like I'm giving away much of the story's intended surprise and impact, but really, it's not that difficult to see how everything will end up after the first half hour. In fact, the predictable twist is arguably the weakest aspect of the script by Szeto Kam-Yuen and Lik-Kei Tang, which isn't all that bad so long as the ride there is enjoyable. And in the capable hands of director Pou-Soi Cheang, that's precisely what we are given.
Clocking in at a very brisk 87 minutes, Cheang welcomes audiences into this world of hired assassins who stage incredibly elaborate deaths that look like gruesome but unfortunate accidents. The opening sequence is basically a demonstration of what they do, as an unnamed man impatiently drives down an alternate route after a woman with a flat tire stops traffic. A large truck filled with water splashes into the man's car window, and a banner suddenly falls on top of his windshield. Angry and frustrated, the man, who we are later told is a Triad leader, pulls the rest of the banner off its hinges and is inadvertently the cause of his own death when glass shatters down on him.
It's a beautifully choreographed sequence filled with suspense and foreboding, which doesn't let up until it's made clear it was a highly sophisticated assassination hit. And even then, this air of apprehension lingers for much of the film's runtime, made worse when the team's next target ends with the seemingly accidental death of one of their own (Lam Suet). Still coping with the death of his wife, the leader, codenamed the Brain (Louis Koo), refuses to accept the tragedy as a simple mischance, bound to happen sooner or later in his line of work. Suspecting his surviving partners (Stanley Fung and Michelle Ye) and the client (Alexander Chan) working together, Brain grows increasingly disturbed and convinces himself that his upstairs neighbor (Richie Ren) is at the center of a grander scheme to assassinate him.
As the narrative develops, and Brain assures himself he's on the right track, we know better and can easily predict how it all will end. The film fails to persuade us in thinking otherwise, but that doesn't stop the filmmakers from trying. We are made to see and hear things only from the perspective of the main character, which by the way is excellently portrayed by Koo as a troubled man we feel more sorry for than someone we side with. What makes it work at a decently engaging level is Cheang, who has us wondering on the possibilities of Brain's version of the truth and doesn't let us think too much on them either, moving from one anxious situation to the next with an energetic pace. Working closely with director of photography Yuen Man Fung, the movie's cinematography also comes with an amusing 80s vibe and lots of lens flare.
'Accident' is essentially a genre exercise. It doesn't really offer anything new, or even feel like a self-aware commentary on these types of plots. The Hong Kong production sticks to the rules of the game where the filmmakers demonstrate they are just as talented as their protagonist in orchestrating an elaborate, seemingly by-chance twist. For the most part, Cheang and company do make the final moments quite suspenseful and stylish, despite failing to surprise. In the end, however, that's also about the extent of the praise — a familiar formula that's generally entertaining and ends in satisfying fashion, which could be construed as a fortunate accident.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Shout Factory brings 'Accident' to Blu-ray on a Region A locked, BD25 disc inside a standard blue keepcase. At startup, viewers can skip over a couple trailers prior to a still photo with the regular main menu options.
For the most part, 'Accident' makes its way to Blu-ray with pretty good picture quality that appears fairly accurate to the visual intentions of the filmmakers. But the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode is also on the erratic side and comes with some severe issues which tend to ruin the overall presentation. Most notably, the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio has been cropped and enlarged to a 1.78:1 frame, becoming a very noticeable distraction during certain scenes.
Although a thin veil of grain is noticeable throughout, a few sequences seem as if digital noise reduction was employed, but is most likely the result of having been blown-up. Other areas of the high-def transfer come with visible mosquito noise, poor shadow delineation and ugly posterization in many of the whites. Black levels are a bit stronger and often true, but occasionally washed out with a few spots of crush in other areas. Colors can be bright, but not always well-rendered and showing some chroma noise. Definition and clarity are probably the best part of the video, but they, too, tend waver, from distinct and clean to soft and smudgy.
In the end, the fact that makers of this Blu-ray zoomed in on the picture is more than likely the reason for so many obnoxious artifacts, which makes this presentation such a disappointment.
Things improve dramatically with a great DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack that's quite involving and satisfying for a dramatic thriller. Admittedly, surrounds can feel somewhat artificial and forced, coming in a few decibels hotter than other speakers, but panning is impressively smooth, creating an enjoyable soundfield. Those discrete atmospherics are not very consistent either, making their silence during quieter scenes that more apparent. The lossless mix's best features are in the front soundstage where a few more ambient effects are employed and provide an expansive imaging. Channel separation is well-balanced, and vocals are well-prioritized. The mid-range is clean and nicely detailed, though the few action sequences come off somewhat bright. Low bass is particularly strong and surprisingly robust, providing a good deal of weight to the movie and making this high-rez track a pleasant listen.
Although not pushing any boundaries or offering anything new to the crime thriller pantheon, 'Accident' makes a stylish and mostly engaging exercise of the genre. With good performances, strong directing, and skill cinematography aiding a rather formulaic script, the film shouldn't disappoint in spite of its easy to predict conclusion. The Blu-ray arrives with a troubled and generally disappointing high-def transfer, but the audio saves the day with a great lossless presentation. All things considered, fans of Hong Kong cinema and of the genre will surely want to give this a rent.