Johnny To, as a director, has two extremes. On one end is gritty crime thrillers like the Election duology – which may have an action scene or two, but which otherwise are generally grounded in the real world. On the other end is Exiled, a film which has a fight scene early in the film where several characters in a firefight cause a table to flip and spin end over end with their bullet hits, but ultimately both come out of the fight uninjured. In the middle lies The Mission.
The Mission is based around five Triad members – Curtis (Anthony Chau-Sang Wong), Roy (Francis Ng), Shin (Jackie Chung-yin Lui), Mike (Roy Cheung), and James (Suet Lam) – all from various walks of life who are brought on board to protect Triad boss Lung (Eddy Ko), by his underboss Frank (Simon Yam). Lung has a bunch of assassins coming after him, of the “lots of guys with lots of guns” variety, so he needs a bunch of skilled gunmen with him until the mastermind of the hit is taken down.
This leads to the main thrust of the story, with the bodyguards slowly coming together as a team while fighting off attempts against Lung’s life. While narratively this is shown when the team decides to tail an assassin back to their hideout, in terms of the big action set pieces in the film, this comes up with a great cat-and-mouse scene in a mall just after closing. Here, To’s mastery of framing and staging action scenes comes to the fore, as he excellently highlights the sightlines of the mall, making a wide open space seem confined, claustrophobic, and treacherous.
The dialog in the film also feels very organic, almost improvised. A great example of this is almost every scene with Frank – who always bookends his scenes with stories that are almost non sequitur. The way he glad-hands almost made me think there was a Outrage-esque twist on the way with that character, but that turned out not to be the case.
As yet, this film hasn’t not received a sequel, but it leaves things open should To choose to revisit these characters in the future, which could make for an interesting film.