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October, 2004, Mystery

In addition to sponsoring the country's best-known festival, The Film Society of Lincoln Center also owns and operates its own theatre (named after Walter Reade) which shows films from around the world that would otherwise not find a commercial outlet here in the states. Much of their fare is directed squarely at the devotees of truly obscure movies, but their current program, entitled "Recent Films From Hong Kong" contains a pair of gorgeously choreographed action efforts that would do John Woo proud. This one is directed by Johnnie To, a prolific director of Hong Kong semi-schlock action flicks. That genre gained worldwide popularity two decades ago when the subject matter involved kung-fu. Now that Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon has made martial arts respectable, the Hong Kong film industry has moved on to a series of pesudo-Clint Eastwood police procedurals, with the industry grinding out "shoot-em-ups" that occasionally contain terrific physical energy. 

Such is the case here; a gloriously explosive gun battle between a gang of thieves and the police opens these proceedings and triggers a massive manhunt which culminates in the evacuation and semi-destruction of one the city's high-rises. There's enough small arms fire and grenade explosions here to qualify as a minor military engagement, and the pyrotechnics are displayed with vigorous enthusiasm. But To also uses the gangster format to wickedly skewer municipal bureaucrats who attempt to use the media to create a more favorable view of the police. Working from a script credited to the entire staff of the company for which he works, (Milkway Productions) To lampoons the media's obsession with "late breaking news" and their gullibility when callously manipulated by an attractive and ambitious young policewoman who's given overall responsibility to bring the siege of the apartment complex to a successful conclusion. Along the way, To delivers the requisite amount of violence for the knuckle-draggers in the audience while offering a wry commentary on the manner in which the evening news is often much closer to fiction than reality. 

The verdict? Silly but clever fun--and the initial shoot-out is a pure jolt of cinematic adrenalin.


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