Saturday, January 31, 2009

Cinema Obscura: Expect the Unexpected

Patrick Yau's late nineties action thriller, "Expect the Unexpected", certainly lives up to its title. Executive produced by everyone's favorite Asian director Johnny To, Yau's film bears a close resemblance to some of To's work, especially the crime-ridden urban environment of "Breaking News" in which violence seems to be seeping through every crevice of its downtown locations. In "Expect the Unexpected", the plot again concerns the abrupt clash of cops and crooks. As the film opens, a jewelry store robbery goes horribly awry, forcing the criminals to escape into a high rise apartment building with the cops in tow. Three different criminals watch all of this with anticipation from a cafe across the street since the very same apartment building seems to be their captivity grounds for kidnapped and assaulted women. While conducting a search from apartment to apartment, the cops discover this and find themselves hunting two separate groups of criminals. In the mix are two police sergeants played by Simon Lam and Ching Wang Lau (both staples of Johnny To films) who both fall for the cafe owner (Yo Yo Mung). If one can get through some of the very lame attempts at humor and some awful subtitles, there's a great little masterpiece within "Expect the Unexpected".

Formally, Yau is a great director of action films. Remember, this film was released in 1998 which means the shaky-cam has (thankfully) not yet entered the visual language of cinema. Instead, we're treated to long steadicam shots and carefully composed medium shots which neatly construct the logistics of space and placement during several shoot out scenes- especially the final one. But the real joy of "Expect the Unexpected" (as I alluded to earlier) is the sneaky translation of the film's title. If one thinks they know how this will turn out, think again. Yau doesn't ruin anything with a soapy twist ending, but he does play our expectations into a stunning reversal that will leave you breathless.

"Expect the Unexpected" is available on DVD.