The Odd One Dies

A number of people had this Milkyway film on their 1997 Top Ten list so I thought I should check it out. Afterwards, I could partly understand some people's liking this film - it has a certain quirky charm to it, wonderful cinematography, beautiful actors and a catchy soundtrack- but for me it was much more irritating than compelling.

It feels as if it is trying so hard to be hip and avant-garde that in the process it becomes tedious and highly pretentious. It is directed by Patrick Yau who seems to have spent way too much time prostrating to his shrine of Wong Kar Wai. Unfortunately, he only learned how to fake it like a prostitute and gives the film no true emotional heart. Think of the most vapid French New Wave film you have seen and you will get an idea of this effort. Apparently, having everything in cool neon red reflected lights, abstract camera angles, minimalist dialogue, actors with sulky looks and nihilistic attitudes and cigarettes dangling listlessly from their lips is enough to hang this film on.

Takeshi Kaneshiro with cutsie bangs covering his face and Carman Lee having darker shadows underneath her dead eyes than Bela Lugosi with a hangover for much of the film are two wanna be killers. Who knows why, who knows why they are hired, who really cares anyway. We do get to see Takeshi run around HK a lot and someone has his fingers cut off a few times (this passes for humor in this film), but to absolutely no point. Many events are repeated over such as trying to register in a hotel or the before mentioned cutting off of fingers but the profundity of this escaped me.

As I mentioned before the two main actors are quite lovely - which is prettier is debatable - and often the film feels more like a fashion shoot with them posing in cool repose than a film. Takeshi utilizes his soulful eyes to great effect and once Carman takes a bath she too is a treat for the eyes - bad haircut and all.

The film has a very catchy cha cha cha tune that plays throughout and in the final fifteen minutes the film begins to finally show some heart as opposed to strictly style and the two characters do begin to matter - but it is a while getting there. If you want to see a film about two killers on the run and in love - I would recommend watching Godard's Breathless instead.

My rating for this film: 5.0

Reviewed by YTSL

For the record: This Patrick Yau helmed offering -- which (ostensibly) centers on a pair of oddballs and (initially) seems to make light of their seeking to earn lots of money by carrying out the task of killing a man with whom they have had no prior contact -- would not make my 1997 Top Ten Hong Kong movies list (that would, instead, include the likes of Patrick Leung’s “Task Force”, Fruit Chan’s “Made in Hong Kong”, Wong Kar Wai’s “Happy Together”, Ringo Lam’s “Full Alert”, Joe Ma’s “First Love Unlimited” and Yang Feng Liang’s criminally overlooked “Dragon Town Story”).  This is not least because I don’t believe that its makers are entirely successful at accomplishing what they set out to do with this effort.  At the same time however, I (too) can indeed see that this early Milkyway Image work is not without its particular charms -- notably that which were supplied by a music composer (Raymond Wong) and cinematographer (Cheng Siu Keung) whose reputations have risen over the years, in tandem with the Johnnie To headed film company with which they have become regularly associated, as well as a couple of young stars (Takeshi Kaneshiro and Carmen Lee) who do not seem to have made as big a name for themselves in Hong Kong as their talents deserve.

Where I part ways with Brian in terms of the opinions we hold of THE ODD ONE DIES though is with regards to whether or not it is a tedious and pretentious “style over substance” effort.  Granted that the makers of this leisurely paced movie seem fond of making allusions to the works of Wong Kar Wai (In particular, the two in which this film’s leading man had also figured and played characters who did such as go to a hotel room with a female killer and clean a pair of her footwear while she slumbers).  I’d further vouchsafe that the Wai Ka Fai scripted offering is less of a straightforward crime drama or action production than a deliberately off beat plus inventive blend of breezy romp and dark musings.  However, my honest impression is that its producers’ concern with emphasizing the unconventional qualities of its mess-making, hair-cutting, finger-slicing main characters (than, say, their fitness -- or not as the case may be -- to effect the dangerous as well as criminal task that they had said at least once that they would undertake) is not so much in the name of high art or all out experimentation than for the sake of some fun entertainment.

Still, this is not to say that there’s no possibility of this jaunty cha cha cha music enlivened Johnnie To and Wai Ka Fai co-production (also) containing certain condemnatory messages about those of Hong Kong’s capitalistic and materialistic tendencies that are anti-social and can de-humanize the territory’s inhabitants).  Put another way: It’s difficult to behold such a scene that’s contained in THE ODD ONE DIES, in which the effort’s main character -- angrily attempts to literally flush money down the toilet (or another in which he’s illogically prepared to pretty much gamble all he owns on one hardly sure bet), and not think that there is “a substantive subtext that skewers HK’s obsession with big wads of cash” (See Stefan Hammond’s “Hollywood East: Hong Kong Movies and the People Who Make Them”, 2000:29).  And this even when the individual concerned is as much of a grungy loser type plus societal misfit as the doe-eyed Takeshi Kaneshiro can portray.

Similarly, when it is realized that THE ODD ONE DIES was released a few months before the Handover, the dream of the man named Mo to emigrate to Japan and Carmen Lee’s nameless character’s idea of Paradise being a place where there is snow covered mountains, clean air and vast open spaces would seem to take on added meaning.  Additionally, in light of the Milkyway Image company having come out as well in 1997 with the (Mainland) migrant-phobic “Intruder”, some (extra) food for thought is placed on the table by way of the questionable individual who acts as the agent of Mo, and also the female ex-con who the young man sought to sub-contract his work to, being someone who is not of Cantonese descent (To be precise, he’s of South Asian origins).  Furthermore, there are his claims re the serious “business” competitors of the two who are identified -- by a luxury hotel’s employee -- as locals being some other non-natives to this part of the world whose populace are liable to worry quite a bit about being over-run by others (as well as nurse dreams of themselves running off to other lands).

For all of this though, THE ODD ONE DIES looks to want to be a work that seeks to ultimately encourage the cultivation of hope rather than despair or even just plain resignation.  In contrast to an older character’s pessimistic suggestion that “We (are destined to) keep on repeating the same thing”, Mo’s actions -- and the way in which certain segments of the film (that prove to be more than mere running gags) play out -- appear to point to there in fact being lights at the end of the darkest looking tunnels plus ways to escape out of seemingly dead-end situations.  Relatedly, the movie’s makers seem to want to encourage the thought that: Even when matters seem pretty bleak, one can still make a determined effort to enjoy whatever little and big luxuries that life is liable to continue to offer up, some upbeat music, interesting sights, and the (HK$2 only tram) ride.

My rating for the film: 7.

DVD Information:

Distributed by Mei Ah

The transfer is absolutely stunning - crystal clear and the colors are very sharp.


Cantonese and Mandarin language tracks

Subtitles:  Chinese, English or Nil.

15 Chapters - though unlike most DVDs there are no pictures to key you in to where the chapters are.

No trailer or other extras.

The sub-titles are easy to read.