Taking an unusually calm and introspective approach to the hit man subgenre, Johnnie To-produced mystery thriller Accident is now available on Blu-ray from Shout Factory. De-emphasizing bombasticism in favor of tense atmosphere and detached introspective malaise, Accident noirishly catalogues the paranoid disintegration of a for-pay criminal mastermind after the bizarre and violent death of his friend and colleague convinces him that his remaining associates and himself are being stalked by a malevolent outsider bent on their destruction.
Brain is the genius head of a covert freelance operation of hired killers whose signature modus operandi is elaborate and complex Rube Goldbergian staging that makes their orchestrated hits look like accidents. Their gimmick keeps the team safe from prying police investigators, but tensions are constantly running high as even a single careless mistake has the potential to permanently expose the entire operation. After a planned hit goes awry and results in the apparently accidental death of one of his cohorts, Brain becomes gradually obsessed with the possibility that the tragedy may have been planned and orchestrated as a warning to the team that their activities are being monitored. As his unit’s cohesion begins to unravel, Brain is increasingly consumed by his need to discover and expose the identity of the person he imagines is responsible for the killing, and he begins to descend into a nihilistic whirlpool of bristling paranoia, methodically compulsive calculation, and reckless intuitive leaps.
Like Punished, Accident deconstructs some standard crime genre tropes by focusing inward on the psychology of its seemingly generic protagonist and expanding him into a fully formed human character wrestling with his own painstakingly subverted capacities for empathy and vulnerability. Rather than a harrowing game of mental agility between Brain and his anonymous nemesis, the character’s motivations continue to fold further and further in on themselves until it becomes clear his real struggle is with his own inability to reconcile the human tragedy of his past actions, or to fully absorb the brutal blow dealt by his momentary loss of control. The film’s balletically choreographed action sequences are its visual centerpiece, but their languidly beautiful, angst-laden execution evokes a sense of weird, fatalistic tragedy, rather than adrenal intensity.
Shout Factory’s disc includes a reel of behind-the-scenes featurettes detailing the creative and practical evolution of the film, featuring interviews with director Soi Cheang and with most of the film’s cast. Accident itself is an unusually thoughtful and restrained genre exercise, realized as gorgeously in its visuals as in the intensity of its inner monologue.