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A view on Blu-ray and DVD video by Leonard Norwitz

Accident aka Yi ngoi [Blu-ray]

 

(Soi Cheang, 2009)

 

 

 

 

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Review by Leonard Norwitz

 

Studio:

Theatrical: Media Asia & Milky Way

Blu-ray: Media Asia Group (HK)

 

Disc:

Region: FREE! (as verified by the Momitsu region FREE Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 1:26:54.583

Disc Size: 24,169,390,990 bytes

Feature Size: 22,543,067,136 bytes

Video Bitrate: 27.83 Mbps

Chapters: 20

Case: Standard Blu-ray case

Release date: November 11th, 2009

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 2.35:1

Resolution: 1080p / 24 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

 

 

Audio:

Dolby TrueHD Audio Chinese 1975 kbps 7.1 / 48 kHz / 1975 kbps / 16-bit (AC3 Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 640 kbps)
Dolby Digital Audio Chinese 640 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 640 kbps
Dolby Digital Audio Chinese 640 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 640 kbps

 

Subtitles:

English, Chinese (traditional + simplified), none

 

Extras:

• Making of – in SD (12:12)

• Trailer

 

 

The Film: 7
Any accident might be a cleverly manipulated murder, and there are those who contract themselves out as specialists in arranged accidental deaths. We witness one such elaborate scheme at the start of Soi Cheang’s movie – a film that obviously owes much to Francis Coppola’s The Conversation – minus Gene Hackman. Accident is every bit as dizzying, more so, I think, than Coppola's film, as his protagonist becomes swept away by fears that the competition has targeted him. "Brain" is a very careful planner. He is exacting and patient, willing to abort a job if every detail is not exquisitely in place seconds before the ax falls.

No mere artifice, Soi Cheang’s off-kilter images work well here, as befits the subject. Editing also is appropriately dizzying, keeping his audience teetering on one side or the other of sanity and believability. In Coppola's movie, Harry Caul is a surveillance expert whose rule is never to become emotionally or morally involved with why his client may be hiring him. When he witnesses fragments of a conversation that suggest the possibility of murder – his client's or his target's, he is not sure – his not so latent paranoid personality begins to get the better of him. In Chaeng's movie, "Brain," as he is known to his team, remains detached not only from his quarry but from his associates as well. Brain is careful to a fault, allowing for no slipups – almost. When one of his team is mowed down in what appears to be an accident, he begins to wonder if he wasn't the target, perhaps by the competition. Harry Caul has nothing on this guy when it comes to splicing together a plausible scenario for murder.

I liked the pacing of Chaeng's film – often we are witness to long stretches of planning that seems to go nowhere, and as the action tightens in the final reels, we lose our balance, as does Brain. Yet there were areas of the film that gave me pause. The first, where a body suddenly falls from a great height and lands impossibly 150 feet or more from the closest building is not a deal breaker, and is soon forgotten. But the second, which places in our minds how the execution of the plan leads to the execution of the target, while dazzling, is implausible, and therefore asks us to accept the method as genius, when it is simply complex and fortuitous. Watch closely and you cannot help but see that it depends for its success on unlikely reactions by the victim, not once, but twice (Why does he get out of his car? – I would have simply backed up – and why does he pull the banner from its source? – I would have simply removed it from my car.)

If you are lucky enough to be taken in by the director's slight-of-hand, this snag is likely to be erased from your mind completely when Brain aborts their next assignment repeatedly only moments before execution because of some detail not being exactly in place. We are led, posthumously, to believe that the same care was taken in the first instance, which it certainly was. But one cannot always count on the behavior of the victim, no matter how well studied, any more than the accidental reflection from a passing object.

Also, I'm not entirely convinced by the direction and casting of Louis Koo. Though his character is deliberately directed as stiff, contained and detached, Koo - while this may be his best and most intriguing performance to date and who is in nearly every scene - is too much the fashion plate and a little young, I thought. While I mentioned Gene Hackman, I really see Ray Milland as he was in The Thief and The Big Clock in this role. Tony Leung Chiu Wai would have been nice. But it’s not all Koo’s doing. As director Soi Cheang presents him to us, Ho Kwok Fai (like his alias “The Brain”) is emotionally dead already, his wife having been killed in an accident that, as he comes to see it, was targeted for himself. (Let’s hear it for guilt run amuck.) It would take an actor of consummate skill and a writer/director that offers more than a shred of layering to keep us interested in a character whose only internal life is fear.

All this said, the story is another matter entirely. Accident is, for the most part, intelligent and thoughtful - certainly worth viewing, despite my complaints. It must also be given credit as a thriller without a gunshot fired, a kick in the face, or a car being chased – proof that none of these are necessary for a movie to have dramatic tension and emotional power, which this does. Its final half hour is a masterpiece of paranoiac devolution, and would make a fascinating double bill with Polanski’s Repulsion.


 

Image: 9/9  NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were ripped directly from the Blu-ray disc.
The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray video discs on a ten-point scale. The second number places this image along the full range of DVD and Blu-ray discs.

Media Asia has outdone itself on this one: a very strong image with a high bit rate and hardly a trace of digital manipulation on transfer, and only minor flecks. Our concerns about the drastically oversaturated, overexposed, high contrast, bloody accident that begins the movie are quickly laid to lest in a series of perfectly drawn shots of natural color and exposure. Detail and texture are superb. Check out the jackets worn by Brain, or the screencap closeup as he listens in on a fateful conversation.

 

CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio & Music: 8/7
The arranged accident in the rain is near nine-minute tour de force that seems deliberately designed for surround sound enthusiasts with the ability to make use of uncompressed audio files. Expect to be enthralled with every imaginable force of rain, save hail, every possible surface it strikes, from umbrellas to tin roofs to the sound heard from corridors to falling onto passing vehicles. There's a spot of lightning, too (but, curiously, not a corresponding amount of thunder) – the audio never in your face, but subtle, nuanced, as it should be – after all, it has to keep our attention for nine minutes while most of that time, the actors wait for their cue from Brain to spring into action.

Some time later Brain begins to hear activity from the room above his apartment. On the ceiling he has already mapped out the floor plan and location of important pieces of furniture. As he hears movement, the surround channels kick in with heightened effect: our own ceiling comes alive with import. But here, there is no subtlety. Brain's perceptual abilities have become oversaturated. He has lost his ability to remain detached.

 

 

Operations: 4
I don't much see the sense in a 3-part Making-of set, when one would have sufficed, especially in that each part is precisely 4:04 long! And it's such a drag to migrate back to the menu just to watch the next part, which isn't even described other than by a number. Subtitles are clean, with only a few English usage errors.

 

Extras: 3
The 12-minute Making-of trilogy (each part 4 minutes, 4 seconds) looks promising and worth a look, even for those of us who do not understand Chinese, for there are no other subtitles.

 

Bottom line: 7
There’s a pretty good idea for a movie here, even if not entirely novel. Produced by Johnnie To, directed by the unlikely Soi Cheang (Shamo and Dog Bite Dog), much of what is needed to make it work – the story, the visuals, the editing, the emotional tension - is there. And it looks and sounds terrific on Blu-ray. English subtitles for the Making of feature would have been nice, but then this BRD was not made with the likes of me in mind. A qualified recommendation.

Leonard Norwitz
December 9th, 2009

 

 

 

 

Thinking of buying from YesAsia? CLICK HERE and use THIS UPDATED BEAVER PAGE to source their very best...

 

About the Reviewer: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.


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