Thursday, August 21, 2008

Running on Karma review

Big (Andy Lau), a former monk turned stripper/body builder is arrested after a club raid involving a rookie cop, Lee Fung-Yee (Cecilia Chung). Yee is transferred to a case involving a gruesome murder committed by a skilled Indian fighter and receives Big’s help, martial arts expertise and power to view karma (and in turn see the future) to catch him. Beliefs and friendship begin to conflict as Big views Yee’s karma and doesn’t seem to like what it holds.

Running on Karma has characteristics that take risks and break convention and narrative structure to make it a more likable film. After the 15-minute set-up we’re under the belief that since time is being put into the murder case and Yee and Big’s relationship, it’s logical that the plot be a simple twist on the generic killer thrillers we’ve come to hate in Hollywood. Luckily the narrative is completely all over the place showcasing a few martial arts sequences, weaving in and out of an engaging romance and diving into contemplative religious interpretation. Despite the inconsistency, the movie uses the light-hearted mood for character development and entertainment that sets up the depth later. This depth is dependent on our connection with the characters and the choices Big needs to make. Still the key aspect is (I’ve been waiting to use this) the film runs on karma as the consistent message. A clever conversation pokes fun at the workings of karma but then leads into deep interpretations trying to seriously discuss the topic. It works successfully as the plot device that ties the entire film together so scenes don’t seem as out of place and as random as they actually are. Even with the disconnected plot and blend of genres, the thematic and character consistencies hold it together.

The relationship between the lovable Cecilia Chung and Andy Lau make up some of the best moments of the film ranging from a few clever lines to Big constantly crashing into walls on a scooter. Both actors do a fine job and especially Andy for sticking with the huge body suit and coming across as believable as you can get with the role.

The film's main problems are the plot structure and the gratuitous scenes. Most notably, the overexposure of Andy Lau’s “physique” detracts from the plot and although it does add some lightheartedness it feels gimmicky and unnecessary. Sure you can accept the opening striptease scene, maybe it added something to the characters but honestly, constant indecent exposure? A bodybuilding contest? This isn’t uneasiness talking, it’s just odd and out of place. The other gratuitous aspect can’t be described without a spoiler, but an integral part of the story is just handled …disrespectfully for lack of a better word. Instead of maintaining a mystery, it shows more than it should and adds uneasiness and annoyance rather than whatever they were trying to do.

Running on Karma is still definitely worth seeing weirdness and all. It’s one of this films you figure is just going to entertain you, but while its doing that it delivers some easy to digest philosophy and religious thought.


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