Expect The Unexpected (1998)

Directed by: Patrick Yau
Written by: Taures Chow, Yau Nai-Hoi & Szeto Kam-Yuen
Producers: Johnnie To & Wai Ka-Fai
Starring: Lau Ching Wan, Simon Yam, Ruby Wong, Yoyo Mung, Raymond Wong & Hui Siu-Hung

Buy the DVD at:
HK Flix.com

Nominations at the Hong Kong Film Awards 1999:
Best Screenplay (Taures Chow, Yau Nai-Hoi & Szeto Kam-Yuen)
Best New Artist (Yoyo Mung)

Awards at the Hong Kong Film Critics Society Awards 1998:
Best Screenplay (Taures Chow, Yau Nai-Hoi & Szeto Kam-Yuen)
Film Of Merit

I refer you back to The Longest Nite-review for a rundown of the alleged clashing between director Patrick Yau and producer Johnnie To. As with that review, we're also going to concentrate on the credited parties. It's another Milkyway production from a time where it seemed almost impossible for them to fail (when making their crime thrillers anyway). Someone said that Milkyway was, at this time, responsible for the only good things coming out of Hong Kong cinema and Expect The Unexpected is another effort that will back up that statement.

The O department within the Hong Kong police, led by Ken (Simon Yam) have on their hands two gangs of thieves on the loose in urban Hong Kong. One incredibly thoughtless Mainland gang and another ruthless killing squad. The O team, also consisting of veteran Ben (Hui Siu-Hung), youngsters Macy (Ruby Wong) and Jimmy (Raymond Wong) will all face unexpected action during this bloody chase. On the side, Ken and chilled out, childish O-team member Sam (Lau Ching Wan) also engage in a minor love rivalry over witness Mandy (Yoyo Mung).

Expect the unexpected is a saying VERY MUCH true for this last credited Patrick Yau film at Milkyway. His prior installment, the bleak, violent, nasty but frankly cool thriller The Longest Nite didn't exhaust Yau and screenwriters (among others Milkyway regular Yau Nai-Hoi) of their darkness. It continues here but holds more moods than the prior Yau film. This bleak and downbeat nature to films is something not all viewers are willing to reconcile with. I'm not the one to judge what their minds are at but my view of reality is that it holds light and darkness but neither has a majority or minority. It can hit any time and you have to deal with it. Same with movies. Hong Kong cinema have produced some truly hurting masterpieces, which have come under criticism because of what they are. Expect The Unexpected has not been mentioned in that regard extensively but is a film that by the final frame will have divided viewers into both positive and negative state of minds.

If you've read that last paragraph and are watching the film, you might wonder where that mentioned dark mood is. Well, Expect The Unexpected holds a variety of them, an art Hong Kong cinema have gotten away with for years but with Yau's film, it's smoothly integrated into the whole. Despite being a Milkyway production, the trademark quirky style of Johnnie To through films like The Mission is unexpectedly missing here (they usually have at least minor doses of quirkiness, probably because To is producing). Yau's film is as close to a straightforward cops and robbers thriller as Milkyway is going to get and I welcome that despite being a huge fan of previously seen stylistic touches.

Expect The Unexpected is a film with familiar elements in plotting, characters and setting but kudos to director Yau for making it absolutely register zero on the intrusive and cliché- scale. There's nothing we can say that ranks as original in the film but when it's executed with such technical flair and attention to detail, who am I to complain? Everything from Ko Chiu Lam's attractive cinematography that, as in The Longest Nite, plays around with light and darkness, this time in a very natural way, to Cacine Wong's helpful, atmospheric score solidifies Expect The Unexpected's technical merits but it actually has a narrative worthy to follow also. Touching slightly upon the theme of stupid robbers and the desperate nature of them, the film also, just like City On Fire did, portrays Hong Kong as a society inhabited by lawbreakers of the cruelest kind. There are casualties along the way and just like in Ringo Lam's best work, the bloodshed hurts, even when it's the unknowns as targets. This is established early on and then the real treat is served; the film continues...

After a very action oriented first act, Yau calms proceedings down and turn our attention to characters. Quietness doesn't dominate like in the best of Johnnie To's films but despite a talky middle section, the film takes on an appropriate subtle nature where characters looks emote what's needed instead. Ken and Sam's characters, the serious and childish one respectively, are examples of people seen in movies but also they showcase how far the scriptwriters purposely have gone with the depth of the characters. It's here Expect The Unexpected feels somewhat spotty, in regards to the character arcs of the cop unit. However with the story mainly concerning Sam and Ken reconnecting to their old friend Mandy, you ain't going to logically spend as much time with the rest of the people. This romantic subplot between the leads actually take on a nice mystic turn because of the choice to not resort to exposition.

What in the end the screenwriters decide to do is inject enough doses of humanity in the moment for us to care in the end, something that works in my mind. You got Hiu Siu-Hung having to make a decision which one to care for in his life, Ruby Wong's Macy having a crush on the office prick Jimmy (Raymond Wong being especially good at playing an asshole) and letting her inexperience shine through by not always being level headed emotionally. It makes for a sympathetic team thanks to signs of humanity and the signs of positivity through laughter and smiles. These are people after all and there are moments of optimism in tough times. Then comes the ending which I'm obviously not going to spoil for you but I have a gut feeling it will kill the film for some of you. I can say that I was willing to accept it but based on things I've mentioned in this review, I'm not condemning the filmmakers choices. I can accept it in that way therefore.

Yuen Bun have certainly made a huge splash at Milkyway with his action directing and Expect The Unexpected & Lifeline remain his most memorable work in that capacity. Gunplay is the order of the day and Yuen brings a stripped down nature to it. It works splendidly because attention has been taken to make it into a story element of the strongest kind rather than having the need for action so to speak.

Simon Yam and Lau Ching Wan are at their best some of the finest acting talent Hong Kong has to offer. It's true that the former has logged time in junk than the latter but casting them in Expect The Unexpected is a crucial point for the film to work. The acting calls for charisma and ability to emote without audibly emoting and with Simon and Lau, you get that nailed down. Simon is the by the books cop as opposed to Lau's childish officer but both get humanity brought out in them via the the subplot with Yoyo Mung's character. Hui Siu-Hung I especially liked in this film because he's the straight man for once while Ruby Wong has never looked lovelier. She has always made an impression on me and would go on to achieve more respect in the community with her low-key performance opposite Lau Ching Wan in Where A Good Man Goes. The rest of the cast such as feature film debuting Yoyo Mung and Raymond Wong are serviceable but it wouldn't be right to say that they're acting is up to standard. Yoyo Mung is a nice presence thanks to the direction and that's how you're going to get acceptable performances out of someone like her (as shown by Derek Chiu in Sealed With A Kiss).

I've heard that Patrick Yau's Expect The Unexpected is one of the few Milkyway productions non-fans of them actually like. I can see why because it stands as more conventional than other pictures from the famed production house. That doesn't mean fans will dismiss the film. You may even go on to like this bleak and violent vision of Hong Kong post 1997 even more than other favourites. Patrick Yau left Milkyway in terrific style and Expect The Unexpected is a compelling and sometimes haunting ride from an era where Milkyway just couldn't go wrong.

The DVD:

Universe 2.27:1 presentation is for the most part very pleasing. Colours are attractive and detail is pretty good. Some softness as well as light print damage were the only downsides I could find.

The Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack makes the film a nice audio experience as well. The front stage dominates and mixes effects, music and dialogue well while surrounds gets only a minor workout. For once effects sounded well-integrated but as with The Longest Nite, there is more post-synced dialogue than expected for such a recent film.

The English subtitles presented no apparent errors and were easy to follow except a few moments where they flash by fast. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included.

As with The Longest Nite dvd, Universe offers a few video extras (neither of which have subtitles). Premiere Show (5 minutes, 56 seconds) follows the usual format for Universe's programs of this type. We see the stars arriving, short interview bites and that's it. Worth a look to see the how stunning Ruby Wong looks though. The Star's Interview section has Q & A's with Johnnie To, Yoyo Mung, Ruby Wong and Raymond Wong but again comes without any subtitles. NG Footage (3 minutes, 19 seconds) is just a series of multiple takes and a few minor bloopers.

The usual bland Star's Files appear also. Lau Ching Wan, Simon Yam, Yoyo Mung, Johnnie To and Patrick Yau get write-ups but only Simon Yam's file goes into any significant detail. This was certainly an expected extra. The only actual good extra is the trailer for the film.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson