The Accident (1999)
by: Julian Lee
The initial thing that drew me into Julian Lee's The Accident (which is based on his own novel by the same name) was actually reading up on actor Ben Ng's filmography. Ben is of course more known for his villainous roles in the Category III efforts Red To Kill and The Eternal Evil Of Asia, two projects that featured overacting but memorable overacting I must stress. Then this 1999 independent drama (also rated Cat III), executive produced by Stanley Kwan, came up and people's positive reactions towards Ng's performance was due to memorable acting. See the difference?
After a railroad accident, a group of lonely individuals are stranded in or waiting for loved ones in nighttime Hong Kong. Tourist guide Phillip (Andrew Lin) loses his mobile phone and can't reach his girlfriend Cindy (Gigi Lai), who is visiting during a hiatus in her studies in London. Phillip goes for a meal at a restaurant where adult film actress Ding Li (Almen Wong) is shooting her latest movie, under prison like conditions. Cindy has nowhere to go and when her ex-boyfriend can't provide roof over her head for the night, her visit to a nightclub leads to her meeting an older airline captain (Patrick Tse). Finally there's the story of a gay taxi driver (Ben Ng) who hooks up with a Mainland teenage hustler (Wong Hei) for the night.
"I wasn't hoping for a lifetime, just a moment of happiness"
The Accident tale of chance meetings between lonely people isn't likely to cause a stir with most viewers as it depends on how much you can immerse yourself in its theme to get genuine emotions from it. I have to confess that I did but there's also the part of me that feels Lee's movie is slightly underwhelming as a whole. Certainly his loneliness theme is almost superbly embodied by Almen Wong's line quoted above and that is its biggest success, the conveying of this very downbeat message.
Lee, who debuted with The Accident and did not surface again until the Daniel Wu produced Night Corridor in 2003, threatens to be highly artistic with the film during its initial stages but thankfully dumps any muddled, in meaning, visuals for a straight storytelling with the biggest stylistic choice being the different color schemes that the urban Hong Kong night can provide you with. The loneliness theme isn't exactly jammed down the viewers throat either as the film plays out very low-key and natural, which means it can be even more underwhelming for viewers out there. In any case, once you get past the fact that these similar meetings all occur during the same night because of the same accident (which is a non-visual reference throughout the film), Lee gives us a very solid look at the different aspects to different individuals loneliness.
The only established couple (Andrew Lin & Gigi Lai) are in a temporary situation because they can't reach each other and through that, other connections are made, for the night only, which is the common denominator in all these portrayals. Lee refuses to give us any kind of movie-ish solutions but instead a real examination, something I appreciate. As much as they'd like, it's almost impossible for the characters to savor moments they're experiencing and if only temporary, that's what these people will accept, which is of course a highly downbeat situation to be in. Striving for something better is a choice that is available to Cindy and Phillip but their, perhaps wrongful instinct, is to go to the established way, not the risky one that could lead to even more rays of happiness. It's all very competently handled by Lee who communicates with the audience without resorting to obvious exposition. It should be radiated from the characters and while there's uneven acting talent on board, it has to be said that the performers do justice to the final nailed message.
On the uneven acting side we find Gigi Lai and Andrew Lin. Lai certainly embodies, in an acceptable way, the desperation and slight childish nature that director Lee wants but she does come off as a bit flat overall. Lin, not very much tested in Hong Kong cinema for his acting abilities does ok for himself in a performance that requires more stillness and reacting and he has a sexy, playful chemistry with Almen Wong. Lee doesn't challenge Wong much beyond her actual abilities and that's what I consider that you have to do. If you know your actor's abilities, you can get the best out of them in a modest way for something that I keep coming back to, a serviceable performance.
Faring the absolute best and really the most interesting story of the three is between Ben Ng and Wong Hei's characters. It's again playing to a section of the theme of loneliness that is about temporary connections, even if the characters do not wish it to be so. Ng's character is in debt but a very caring, sensitive and mild-mannered gay man and his quick hookup a Manland teenage conman is an intense one in terms of the various sex acts between them, but the relationship speaks suitable volumes about their respective desires that may not be able to flourish, at least not between the two of them. Obviously this is a more sophisticated portrayal of gay men that Hong Kong films usually gives us and actor Ng and Wong deserves kudos for all the way displaying emotions of huge desire and also doing good in performing the quiet nature to their night together. The Accident is therefore noteworthy and special for showcasing a side to Ng that many probably didn't think was there. It's a shame he's rarely been given more chances to explore this calmer side but you have to cherish what's there. Christine Ng appears briefly as a woman acquaintance of Ng's character, perhaps his only friend but he can't answer back to her emotions towards him. Have to mention one of the film's strangest inclusions and a definite flaw, the twin girls, wannabe actresses that hang around the set of Ding Li's film. Broad and generally odd and the comment about them really felt outside of this film.
Julian Lee's The Accident is not without its flaws mainly in terms of the coincidence that all night meetings are really of the same nature. That's easy to let go off though as Lee presents an honest and, if you're in the right mood, heartfelt portrayal of urban loneliness. Acting on board is acceptable for the most part, with the true standout, as I'd initially hoped, being, otherwise Cat III madman, Ben Ng. There were underrated talents in there despite the extreme nature to many of those films and it's special to see movies like The Accident because of it.
An older disc at Mei Ah that presents the film in a 1.70:1 aspect ratio approximately. Colours are ok and print is very clean although the brightness ruins any chance of deeper blacks. Not in anyway NOT watchable however.
The Cantonese Dolby Digital 2.0 track sounds rough and dialogue sometimes sounds more distorted than I'd like. No real channel separation exists but it's a decent soundtrack nonetheless. A Mandarin 2.0 dub is also included.
The English subtitles feature few errors and seems to convey dialogue and such to a good degree. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included. Extras includes trailers for Water Margin - Heroes Sex Stories and The Conman 1999. The Mei Ah databank also offers the usual, useless plot synopsis and cast & crew listing.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson