Hitmaker Johnnie To combines judo with sentiment in "Throw Down," a disjointed story of self-discovery, courage and redemption somewhat incongruously billed as a salute to Akira Kurosawa. Film is high on style and fight scenes but lower on narrative coherence, making it unlikely to break far beyond festivals and Asian DVD distribution.
Prolific Hong Kong hitmaker Johnnie To combines judo with sentiment in “Throw Down,” a disjointed story of self-discovery, courage and redemption somewhat incongruously billed as a salute to Akira Kurosawa. Played out with a loose, jazzy feel that echoes the music of the nightclub where much of the action takes place, the visually dynamic film is high on style and fight scenes but lower on narrative coherence, making it unlikely to break far beyond festivals and Asian DVD distribution.
Former judo champion Sze-To (Louis Koo) has withdrawn from martial arts to become a boozing club owner and inveterate gambler. His downward spiral is interrupted by the arrival of two obstinate strangers, each with their own dream. Tony (Aaron Kwok) is a feisty young punk determined to challenge the reluctant one-time pro to a judo fight, while Mona (Cherrie Ying) is a wannabe singer angling for a regular gig at Sze-To’s club.
Initially, Sze-To merely drags Tony and Mona along in his wake as he rips off cash from a former fight opponent turned mobster, then loses the proceeds in a gambling den. But gradually, the washed-up fighter is roused out of his self-destructive slump by his unwanted sidekicks and by the death of his former judo instructor. As Tony faces his own personal challenge and Mona deals with her father’s bid to clip her wings, Sze-To finds the discipline and determination to overcome his fears and take on a formidable judo master (Tony Leung Ka-Fai).
The disparate plot strands that fuel Sze-To’s journey drift too distractedly in and out of focus, and the mix of crunching fight action and inspirational treacle could be smoother. But the attractive cast — ably led by Koo as the charismatic rogue — and the sharp visuals make “Throw Down” not unenjoyable. With no real villains on hand and no weaponry in the clashes, this is a gentler, more-character driven variation on the usual Hong Kong actioner.
Cheng Siu Keung’s muscular widescreen camerawork makes the neon-lit streets and nightclubs a vivid canvas, which pulsates to the brisk editing and pumped-up soundtrack. Taking product placement one step further, the film’s end credits open with a full-screen ad for razors.