Johnnie To (director)
18 May 2020 (released)
16 May 2020
A peculiar mix of drama and comedy, this Judo action movie is, although set in Hong Kong, an unusual ‘homage’ to the great Japanese director Akira Kurosawa.
Sze-to Bo (Louis Koo) was once a respected Judo champion but for reasons we don’t find out until much later in the film (and which won’t be revealed here) he turned his back on the sport, deciding instead to run a night club while struggling with his increasing alcoholism and spiralling gambling debts, courtesy of a huge poker bankroll he had ‘liberated’ from one of his rivals. Predictably enough, instead of attempting to pay back the money Sze-to spent the cash on even more booze and even more gambling. Now he’s in a pickle because said rival and his henchmen want their money back. There’s a surprise! But that’s not the only pickle Sze-to finds himself in because his past just won’t leave him alone! Enter current Judo champion Tony (Aaron Kwok), a former admirer of Sze-to who now wishes to challenge him to a duel – slowly but surely realising that Sze-to is usually either too drunk or too hungover to even make it to the stage of his club, attempting to play guitar with the house band. Things go from bad to worse when his old rival Lee Ah-kong (Tony Leung) arrives with one aim in mind: to wrap up some long unfinished competition. As if there wasn’t enough trouble already, Sze-to’s frail and elderly mentor Master Cheng (Lo Hoi-pang) asks him to overhaul his decrepit ‘dojo’ (a Judo training centre) while he has his hands full looking after his dementia-ridden son, Ching (Calvin Choi). With all of this going on, even more trouble lays in store for Sze-to when Mona (Cherrie Ying), an aspiring young singer from Taiwan, arrives at his nightclub asking for an audition. As it soon transpires, Mona has actually escaped her nasty manager back in Taiwan who had forced her into prostitution and had planned to put her into blue movies. Now she seeks refuge in Sze-to’s club though it’s not before long when her former manager’s thugs are hot on her heels. On top of this, Mona’s dominating father also arrives… Just as the entire situation surrounding Sze-to begins to look more and more bleak he finds unlikely support from Mona and Tony though it’s only after Master Cheng’s sudden demise that Sze-to snaps out of his pathetic mental state and finally begins to get his act together… ready to face the challenges life and his competitors throw at him.
The film’s title THROW DOWN refers to the throwing down of competitors during the act of Judo fighting and we encounter some rather surreal scenes more than one once. During one occasion an almighty brawl breaks out in Sze-to’s joint, with the fight scenes (which gradually spill out onto the street) depicted in slow-motion while the mentally challenged Ching takes to the stage attempting a bout of karaoke without musical backing (in real time). In another scene Mona sits on Sze-to’s shoulders who in turn sits on Tony’s shoulders when the girl tries to fetch her red balloon which became entangled in a tree. There’s some humorous scenes too, for example when the overtly eager Tony challenges the bouncer of Sze-to’s nightclub to a bit of Judo… joke is the bouncer is heavily built if not overweight altogether and yet Tony manages to throw him down on the ground within seconds. In another scene a drunken Sze-to attempts to reach the stage to accompany his house band, only to fall face down in a drunken stupor within seconds of playing his guitar. The film’s more surreal moments and the realistic Judo fight sequences don’t always gel, however, director Johnnie To offers a fascinating glimpse into the world of Hong Kong gambling dens and social structures often alien to Western viewers. Though how exactly the ‘homage’ to Kurosawa comes into it eludes this reviewer.
THROW DOWN has just received its UK debut and is presented in Blu-ray format from a 4K restoration. Furthermore the initial print run of 2000 copies will come in a Limited Edition O-Card Slipcase. There’s also a reversible sleeve and a collector’s booklet.