Five men, from across Hong Kong, are about to be drawn together after the events of tonight, they just don't know it yet. What happened was a crime boss, Mr Lung (Eddy Ko) was in a local restaurant when it became clear his life was in danger, which came with the territory of his station in life but not something he was going to take lying down. As the hitmen gathered inside, they riddled Lung's bodyguard with bullets as he dived for cover, managing to get out his phone and call his fixer, Frank (Simon Yam) who in turn called his men to chase off the attackers. That accomplished, it is now clear Mr Lung needs more protection than he has had before, so that quintet are fetched...
The Mission, not to be confused with the eighties Robert De Niro religious, historical epic, was one of the movies Johnnie To directed that started to get him attention from Western critics, though he had been in the business for some time by that stage. You could argue it was Exiled that really cemented his position as a Hong Kong director to watch, but this little item was worth your time as well, a pared down, almost childishly simple gangster movie that took traditional conventions of its genre and kept them as unadorned and basic as possible, all seemingly to sustain a curiously calm philosophical approach: we know these are bad men, but they have a morality all their own.
Naturally, there were shootouts at regular intervals, but these were not the John Woo style of balletic leaping about firing to pistols in tandem with the odd flutter of dove's wings for artistic effect, no, here there was a definite Zen peacefulness about being in the centre of the action. Nobody started screaming, nobody started swearing, there was simply this acceptance of the moment which could see your life ended at any point, so you had better do your best to prevent that happening to either you or those around you who are on your side. The bullets flew as if none of the participants needed to reload, another reason these sequences seemed weirdly unreal.
You could sum up the plot in one sentence, even with the twist that occurred late on that threw the band of brothers' loyalty into doubt, but there was also plenty of depiction of what must be the lot of gangsters' bodyguards: purely waiting around for something to happen. In a manner that echoed his Japanese contemporary Takeshi Kitano's distinctive crime dramas, To liked to observe these men not doing anything very much, sitting about, shooting the breeze, amusing themselves with very minor practical jokes or playing impromptu football with a rolled up piece of paper, anything to stave off the boredom that took up the spaces between the times when they had to do what they were being paid for, which was fight violence with violence. Not really prevent it happening, you understand.
No, they were there to retaliate when the inevitable gunfire began, and though everyone, including Mr Lung, were wearing bulletproof vests, they each acted as if they were anticipating those hails of bullets any time their charge had to venture into an exposed area of the city. Anthony Wong was the leader of the bodyguards, and he was unconventional as well, a hairdresser who propped up his income by organising the protection of whatever gang boss wished to pay him, and he certainly cut an unlikely figure for a man of action. But the sadness was that even their camaraderie was not enough to preserve their relationships as a revelation in the latter stages shattered their confidence in one another. The film concluded on a mood of disillusionment, as if they had had their fun playing bad guys like in the movies, but now the real world was intruding and it was time to wake up. Some have issues with the nasty synth music of Ching Chi Wing, and it was an odd choice, but it did sound different to what you expect, therefore apt, perhaps.