Thursday, October 2, 2008

Throwdown Review

Sze-to, a former judo champion, present drunken club owner, owes a great deal of money to his bosses and makes the wise decision to gamble what he has away, probably while under the influence. In comes Tony, the eager newcomer giddy to challenge anyone and everyone including Sze-to because of his alluring reputation. Also arriving at the nightclub is the homeless Mona, desperate to kick-start a singing career by getting a job at the club. When the bills and judo rivals start to pile up, Sze-to finds himself pressured to question his reasons for quitting in the first place.

The Good?
Throwdown is one of the very few mainstream Judo films in existence and Johnny To manages to capture the appeal to this martial art, despite its less than spectacular visuals He focuses on flashier aspects from intense flipping, counter-flipping, counter-counter-flipping and more intricate tossing fight sequences smoothly strung together. Even while characters don’t have an opponent, we’re treated to interesting training sequences of fighters flipping themselves and almost dancing through the streets in what look like violent gymnastic floor exercises.

The film has a dedication to Judo and elements of the martial arts genre, taking a modern day look at a classical concept and paying homage especially to Akira Kurosawa, whose first film, Sanshiro Sugata, was about a judo fighter. When we thought the idea of challenging dojo masters to duels was over, along comes Tony Leung Ka-fai to fight all takers and lay down an invitation.

To dives into an unexpectedly rich, slower atmosphere with scenes accompanied by sweepingly rich operatic scores, jazzy tunes, and gorgeous, vacant, nighttime Hong Kong streets.

The Bad?
While the film is stunning visually, it is difficult to take the script seriously with its silly themes and clich├ęd characters. Mona dreams of making it big. Sze-To has mysterious remorse and reluctance to fight. These character moments make the film drag, while the best scenes have little to do with the narrative’s ultimate goal and simply exist for aesthetic pleasure.


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