Versatile Hong-Kong filmmaker Johnny To ignores the usual rules of the chop-socky movie and turns out a stylish, bittersweet comedy that's more melancholy character study that bone-crunching smack down. As Sze-To (Louis Koo), the heavy drinking, heavy gambling manager of the After Hours Bar & Lounge, recovers from a massive hanger-over, he's visited by two...read more
Versatile Hong-Kong filmmaker Johnny To ignores the usual rules of the chop-socky movie and turns out a stylish, bittersweet comedy that's more melancholy character study that bone-crunching smack down. As Sze-To (Louis Koo), the heavy drinking, heavy gambling manager of the After Hours Bar & Lounge, recovers from a massive hanger-over, he's visited by two strangers. Mona (Cherrie Ying), a persistent, aspiring singer who's already a little to old to compete against teen starlets, has come looking for a job as a singer, while Tony, an ambitious student of Judo, has come looking for a fight. Tony has been challenging Judo champs from dojos all over Hong Kong, claiming he can take the down his opponents with a single technique. If they won't pick up the gauntlet, Tony makes a play for their sympathy by falsely claiming that he's going blind. Tony has now come to the After Hours Club to challenge Sze-To, who was once the "Judo Golden Boy" before abandoning his sensei, Master Cheng, and Cheng's developmentally disabled adult son, Jing, two years earlier. Sze-To not only refused to help Master Cheng run his struggling dojo, he never even bothered to show up to what would be his final bout against the champion Kong (Tony Leung Ka Fai). Sze-To agrees to hire Mona, and even though he refuses to fight Tony, he gives him a job filling in for his house band's sax player after Tony dislocates the poor man's shoulder. Sze-To also recruits them both to help him rip-off Brother Savage, a hilariously competitive video game addict and crime boss, at the arcade where his bag-men make their drop. Unfortunately, the arcade's surveillance camera catches them in the act, and Brother Savage soon shows up at the club demanding his money back. Sze-To, however, has already gambled it away. To intended this unusual genre piece to serves as a tribute to Akira Kurosawa, whose first film was the judo-themed SUGATA SANSHIRO (1943), but it doesn't even resemble the Japanese master's early work; it's more reminiscent of John Woo in a sentimental mood. If the story takes a while to coalesce, it's only because To is intent on first developing something that's usually missing from fight flicks — characters — and while the fight sequences are relatively few and far between, Judo eventually comes to serve as a metaphor for something far larger: assuming responsibility for your life. See it on a big screen if you can. The film is as beautiful as it is unpredictable.
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