Throwdown



Reviewed by Anabela Voi You

Throwdown is simply silly but in a good way. Johnnie To again introduces some eccentric characters and perspectives. Here, the story is told slowly, ever so slowly, about Louis Koo who was a Judo champ but has switched profession to a drunken guitar playing club manager (for some inexplicable reason).  Louis spends most of his time slumped unconscious in surroundings he’s barely aware of. It has a comic book, Kill Bill feel but virtually lacks blood. Jordan Chan has a classic moment of his typical “bulldog” pouts. That was about all Jordan contributed but I enjoyed this moment of masterful brooding immensely. When I don’t get what I want next time I will surely pull this face off.

Aaron Kwok is also a Judo champ and can’t wait to test his skills. Hence, Aaron is constantly chasing Louis Koo’s tail for a fight, as Aaron is running out of time: he’s got glaucoma and about to go blind. For some inexplicable reason Louis Koo decides to quit being a drunk and get back into Judo in earnest. His master’s death may have inspired him to do so, but with a film with this level of reckless logical abandon, you never know. For some inexplicable reason Louis Koo’s Master played by Low Hoi Pang has a mentally handicapped son who hums heroic Japanese folkloric songs.
For some inexplicable reason Cherrie Ying is the “chick” of the film and wants to be a starlet singer and has failed in Taipei and Hong Kong. Now she wants to make it big in Japan. It is revealed that she is a rich girl and her father comes to pick her up in his very expensive chauffeured mobile. For some inexplicable reason Cherrie has nothing to do with this Judo mumbo jumbo story except to provide a feminine relief to the male-charged story, or rather, loosely written narrative. For some inexplicable reason the dialogue is nonsensical too. Aaron Kwok, after persistently persuading Louis Koo to return to the world of Judo, finally asked Louis Koo why he decided to get back into Judo to which Louis Koo replied, “Well, ha ha, I got glaucoma and I’m going to be blind, that’s why I’m getting back to it.” Both Aaron Kwok, the self-proclaimed glaucoma bearer, and Louis Koo giggle like schoolgirls while practicing some bona fide Judo moves.
Towards the end it is subtly hinted that Louis is the real glaucoma bearer and becomes blind, which may answer why he’s so downtrodden and why he’s putting on a last fight. Aaron, on the other hand, is just an itchy martial artist, “You people wanted an excuse on why I always want to fight, so I made up an excuse that I was going blind. I don’t have any excuse on why I like to fight. I just do.” Tony Leung Ka Fai carries a ponytail and wants to have a fight with the self-effacing Judo champ Louis Koo. They finally fight but for some inexplicable reason Louis Koo is declared winner. Actually, I’ll stop being facetious here and say that Louis probably won because Tony Leung decided that Louis won in spirit by persisting to fight despite his impending blindness.
Word has it that the actors did the stunts themselves. However, I really wonder whether Aaron did those one-arm pushups himself. The Judo moves were wonderfully executed but sore on the eyes after the trillionth time you see a Throw Down. It echoes Kill Bill here and there but much more light-hearted and doesn’t take itself seriously… at all. If you just want to see it for the martial arts there isn’t much of a Judo galore or much of a Judo battle among Tony Leung, Aaron, and Louis. The movie unfolds ever so slowly and hypnotically, and by the time 50 people are doing a throw down, you don’t feel a thing and just feel compelled to turn the TV off.
I just got the feeling that Johnnie To and crew thought it would be cool to make a movie about Judo without any clear idea of who these characters are or what stories they have to tell. It wouldn’t make Johnnie To and crew less than artists if they were driven to add a few lights here and there. I could barely see any details, so no wonder glaucoma was a theme. When I was capable of seeing I found the cinematography to be composed of gorgeous, Edward Hopper-styled Hong Kong nights of neon, arcades, and clubs, lovely urban texture - like staring into an elusive amber stone. After ceaseless squinting and doing investigative work on figuring out what’s going on, I just decided to sit back and enjoy the thrill of the total lack of logic. After a while the film did become cute, sweet, and wholesome a la Love on a Diet, a feeling you didn’t expect at all from the dark opening of the flick. Towards the end the camaraderie among Aaron, Louis, and Cherrie can be felt, and no one, including the grumpiest gangster, is sad or angry. Everyone is just having a good old time throwing each other down. My personal favorite sweet and funny scene is when Cherrie is carried by Louis who is in turn carried by Aaron, so Cherrie can reach high enough for the balloon that she liberates into the air. For what it's worth the credits say Throwdown is a tribute to Kurosawa. You should see it if you miss the Johnnie To family gathering, but I warn you, do not think too hard while watching it or you’ll ruin the irrational fun.

Rating: a bemused 6.0