The premise of Accident is the sort of perfect high concept idea that a Hollywood mogul would hock his last Ferrari to get: a team of assassins who specialize in assassinations designed to resemble accidents is thrown into disarray when a suspicious accident befalls them in the middle of a job. If your average American major studio got their hands on this sort of concept, it would end up being one absurdly overblown setpiece after another with the volume cranked to 11.
Thus, Accident is a big surprise because it is not an action machine. It was produced by Johnnie To, a Chinese film industry vet known for his emphasis on mood and style. That approach definitely informs this film. The main character is Brain (Louis Koo), an emotionless and mercenary type who plans his “accidents” in meticulous detail with a team consisting of Woman (Michelle Ye), Uncle (Shui-Fan Fung) and Fatty (Suet Lam).
Their invisible approach is disrupted when a mysterious bus accident occurs after they finish a job, nearly killing Brain. He severs ties with the rest of the team and goes into paranoid isolation. He becomes convinced the culprit is Chan (Richie Ren), a seemingly innocuous insurance agent who sold Brain’s last client an insurance policy. He obsessively tracks his prey as he looks for the evidence to prove his theory – and what he discovers will have a life-altering impact for everyone.
The result is not for action junkies. Though the film does showcase some brilliantly designed creative-kill death scenes during its running time, they are not designed for popcorn thrills. Instead, they show how much tedium and work is involved in making these seamless accidents occur – and the payoffs to each don’t flinch from the ugly, upsetting side of the violent deaths involved.
Instead, Accident focuses on the isolation involved in Brain’s work and the creeping paranoia it can inspire when things go wrong. Koo gives a subtle yet very rich performance: early on he affects a facade of emotionless cool but the story chips away at that, allowing him to gradually reveal layers of hidden emotion. Ren will keep viewers guessing as the potential culprit and Fung impresses with a sometimes comic, sometimes sad turn as the oldest member of the assassin team. Together, these actors help seal the elusive yet cumulatively unnerving style of the story.
The disciplined performances are aided by strong direction from Soi Cheang. Like most To productions, this film has style to burn but it’s all put in the service of creating a distinctive mood for the story. The city Cheang’s film portrays is busy, colorful and crowded yet also oddly impersonal. It’s the kind of place a person get swallowed up by if they aren’t careful and the feeling it creates helps convey the paranoia that the second half of Accident relies upon. Cheang also brings skill to how the big accident scenes are assembled, making them look convincing and also giving them a visceral punch that sells the gut-wrenching horror of witnessing a sudden death.
In short, Accident is very intriguing as an example of artsy methods being applied to a commercial premise. It doesn’t go the places you might expect from such a story but the different, darker path it takes is rewarding in its own way.