Johnnie To is the coolest director in the known universe, bar none. He has a gift for making great movies, and this is one of his strongest. It doesn’t hurt that he’s assembled a solid cast, including Andy Lau, owner of the sharpest cheekbones in the business, and Lau Ching Wan, one of the best actors in Hong Kong. There are even credible female characters too, in the form of the lovely Yoyo Mung, and the redoubtable Ruby Wong.
But this is definitely a boy film: it’s a contest of sorts between the two male leads, who both lend their characters gravity and depth, and who play off each other remarkably well. Andy even won a Best Actor at the Hong Kong Film Awards for this role, which was (I think) his 99th film. The villain of the piece is essayed credibly by Waise Lee, with all the assurance of a man who gets his way and doesn’t mind having to shoot the odd gwailo if it helps him along.
You’ll even be able to spot several members of JTs crew if you watch carefully. One shows up as a cop, another plays the manager of a finance company, while a third appears as a bad guy handcuffed to a briefcase of stolen jewelry. Yau Nai Hoi, the scriptwriter, pops up early on to measure a cop for his uniform, while Martin Chappell, the sound engineer, shows up late in the film sitting quietly behind Andy and Yoyo on a minibus.
There’s nothing bad about this film. The cinematography is exquisite. The story moves well and is interesting. The music is appropriate and moving, characteristic of To’s films (he’s always got great music). The action never lags.
Okay, maybe there’s one bad thing: on various discussion boards, titles are often abbreviated for convenience, and this is no exception. Unfortunately for my sometimes lowbrow sense of humour, the abbreviation is ROOT, which, I need not tell an Australian audience, has snigger-provoking connotations. Otherwise it’s a faultless piece of cinema, from the King Of Dead-Cool, Johnnie To. So head to Hong Kong to find your own minibus, carrying an Andy or Yoyo just for you.