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July 21, 2011

Accident

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Yi ngoi
Soi Cheang - 2009
Rose Entertainment & Media Region 3 DVD

A crucial scene in Accident takes place during a solar eclipse. Much of the drama of the film is based on what is seen, as well as unseen. The eclipse also acts as a visual symbol for the main character's understanding of what has been going on around him. The film is about the act of seeing, of understanding what one sees. To that end, many of the shots are not clear. What the viewer sees are reflections on glass, people partially seen through glass, people in shadows and rain. Even when the sun comes out, there is still uncertainty about what one is seeing, who we are looking at, and what, if any, relationship they may have with each other.

Richie Jen plays a man called Brain who leads a three person team in staging elaborate accidents that serve as cover for murders. Things begin to go sour for the team when the eldest member of the group, an older man known as Uncle, shows signs of forgetfulness. A staged accident held on one very dark, rainy night gets out of control when a bus crashes onto the scene, killing a member of Brain's team. The bus crash may be an accident, but Brain is certain that he's being played by a competitor, possibly someone from an insurance company.

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Whether intentionally or not, Accident seems to have been inspired at least partially by Francis Ford Coppola"s The Conversation. Much of the film is devoted to Brain watching and listening, trying to make sense of what he sees and hears, gradually enveloped in increasing paranoia. There is also the unavoidable comparison to Rear Window, in content, but not style. Unlike James Stewart, who managed to put two and two together from the vantage point of his apartment, Richie Jen's attempts at adding up what he sees and hears reveal some unexpected answers. Brain's sense of isolation is also emphasized by his memories of his wife, who died in a car crash. Brain keeps his wife's damaged watch, with the time stopped at the moment of that accident. Brain's memory of his wife informs his current occupation, affording the illusion of being in control of life and death.

The first accident shown in the film involves among other things, a car with a flat tire on a street with heavy traffic, water spilled from a truck, and an errant banner hung improperly. The setup is so elaborate that the viewer is primed to be uncertain about what follows. Cheang plays on the assumption of the audience regarding the veracity of what the main protagonist may be seeing, and that what is seen by the protagonist is understood as revealing the truth about a situation.

There is some delight in watching Brain and his crew set up an accident, throwing around different ideas, and coming up with a plan involving a rainy night and a loose wire on streetcar tracks. The timing and the multiple steps involved make the staged murders from James Cain novels look simple minded. The murders are made of a complex series of causes and effects, death as staged by Rube Goldberg. Yet what Cheang is more interested in is how the efforts of confusion and secrecy undo Brain and his team, so much so that absolutely nothing appears to be coincidental, and everything has some sinister motivation. Even though Accident was produced by Johnnie To, and has some of To's crew on this film, including supporting actor Lam Suet, there is not the optimism that is usually found in To's films. In a To film, the protagonist usually finds a way to redeem himself at the very end. In Accident, even the best of intentions have tragic consequences.

Posted by peter at July 21, 2011 08:29 AM