Throw Down (2004)

throwdown

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Johnnie To returns to the martial arts genre and melds it with his use of action-dramatic storytelling with this tale of a ex-judo champion on a road to rediscovering himself amidst the chaos that surrounds him.

Nightclub owner Sze-To spends his days gambling and drinking while performing at nights in his club. However, when a mysterious stranger, Tony, arrives, Sze-To’s true past is about to catch up with him. Sze-To was a former judo champion known as the “Judo Golden Boy”. However, as he prepared for a competition with fellow judoka Kong, Sze-To mysterious disappeared and his life took a downfall from his gambling and drinking.

Tony is a fellow judoka who spends his time challenging various experts and he wants to challenge Sze-To. Meanwhile, a young woman named Mona is attempting to start a career in Hong Kong as a singer. She meets Sze-To, who gives her a job at the nightclub while Tony is given a job as a saxophonist, on the promise that Sze-To will eventually accept his challenge.

One night at the club, Sze-To is besieged by a loan shark he stole money from, fellow shareholders of the club, and his former teacher Master Chang. Mona is besieged by her agent, who only plans to exploit her. Tony is exploited by goons he had challenged and defeated. The night turns into chaos when all those involved with the trio begin to pick a fight. However, Kong, who has wanted to have that long awaited match with Sze-To also arrives at the club and takes out all who stand in his way.

When Tony challenges Kong, his arm is dislocated and devises a way to counter Kong’s attacks. Meanwhile, Sze-To begins to evaluate his life after his master dies in a competition. He soon begins a road to discovering who he truly is, accepting both challenges from Tony and Kong to prove he still has the spirit of judo within him.

Johnnie To shows that he truly an auteur in Hong Kong cinema. While he started out doing martial arts films in the 1990’s, he is more known for his work with his trademark style of action and exhilarating dramatic storylines. With this film, he melds the genre he first started with (martial arts) and the genre he works with now (modern action/drama) into one of the most exhilarating films of the millennium.

While To could have picked any style of martial art to focus on, one can’t help wonder what To was thinking when decided to focus on the martial art of judo. Judo is a Japanese art that consists of mainly throwing your opponent, hence the name of the film. Hollywood legend James Cagney used this style of martial art in his World War II-set piece Blood on the Sun while legendary director Akira Kurosawa focused on the art in his 1943 classic Sanshiro Sugata, which is referenced in this film by Master Chang’s mentally challenged son Jing.

Let’s start with the cast and their performances. Louis Koo delivers a knockout performance as Sze-To, a man going through a downward spiral due to his constant gambling and drinking at the nightclub he owns. One would never think Sze-To was a former judoka until young fighter Tony arrives. Aaron Kwok delivers an interesting performance as Tony. Reasons behind as to why he challenges Tony may seem one way, but the truth is revealed towards the finale. Kwok and To have worked with each other before in the 1993 film The Barefooted Kid. Veteran To cast member Cherrie Ying gives one of her best performances as Mona, a young woman who just wants to be famous. Her subplot truly drives the film and becomes somewhat of a catalyst for the road Sze-To must embark on to rediscovering himself, whole Mona attempts to make a better life for herself as well. As for Tony Leung Ka-Fai, he doesn’t offer much dramatic wise, but action wise, his few scenes show lots of impact.

The action in this film is well done. Choreographed by To’s veteran stunt coordinator Yuen Bun, the art of judo truly stands out here. The cast trained in the art prior to the film and they look simply great. Aaron Kwok is perhaps the stand out of the cast and he uses a combination of throws and a scissor leg/armbar technique to choke out his opponent. He also knocks down the club’s bodyguard in friendly bets before entering the club. While Louis Koo doesn’t really fight until the final half-hour, he does well too and this would come in handy a few years later when he studied a bit of mixed martial arts with Donnie Yen’s stunt team for Flash Point. As mentioned, Tony Leung Ka-Fai just makes an impact on the screen when he arrives. The finale, pitting Koo and Leung, takes place in a grassy field, perhaps a tribute to some of the greatest martial arts film over time.

Throw Down truly marks Johnnie To’s return to the martial arts genre without losing his style for modern action and drama. Great performances and exhilarating judo fights make this a worthy martial arts film.

WFG RATING: A

China Star Entertainment and One Hundred Years of Film Co. Ltd. Presents a Milkyway Image (HK) Ltd. Production in association with Sil-Metropole Organisation Ltd. Director: Johnnie To. Producers: Johnnie To and Stephen Lam. Writers: Yau Nan-Hoi, Yip Tin-Shing, and Au Kin-Yee. Cinematography: Cheng Siu-Keung and To Hung-Mo. Editing: David Richardson.

Cast: Louis Koo, Aaron Kwok, Cherrie Ying, Tony Leung Ka-Fai, Jordan Chan, Eddie Cheung, Calvin Choi, Jack Kao, Lo Hoi-Pang, Jimmy Wong, Hung Wai-Leung, Lu Ching-Ting, Ronald Yan.

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