Too Many Ways To Be Number
This film from Milkyway Productions and directed
by Wai Ka-fai is certainly one of the most innovative and intriguing films
to come out of HK in the 90’s, but it is certainly not the easiest film
to watch. In too many ways it is style over substance, film technique over
story telling. Yet it is certainly a film that will either capture your
attention or repulse you.
Camera movement dominates this film unlike
any I have ever seen. It often feels that the characters and story are
there only for the camera to play with. Primarily using a hand held camera,
Wai has it constantly on the move – swooping in for a close up, circling
overhead, frantically swinging back and forth, filming from an low oblique
angle or set far back for a wide angle shot. One entire fight scene is
shot (twice) with the camera upside down. Much of the film is distorted
or bathed in hues of green or blue. There are only a few short scenes in
the entire film with a static camera in normal distance mode. Much of this
is initially very irritating and disorienting to the viewer. As is the
Lau Ching-wan is a small time and not particularly
bright triad lowlife. His life has reached a point where it seems to be
trapped in an endless loop within a decision tree. The film follows different
versions of his life depending on what decision he makes, but due to the
ineptitude of Lau and his gang or perhaps to fate, the results are always
peculiar to say the least. And very violent.
Fingers being cut off, people run over, a woman
dying from an orgasm, bricks being cracked on top of heads, lots of people
being shot or drowned or knifed. At first it is all too much and then suddenly
you realize that this is a comedy – a very dark comedy – but a comedy nevertheless.
And the camera angles and movement are all part of the joke and you start
noticing a lot of visual gags and the absurdity of the whole thing. And
by the time you reach the episode of the two fat triad kingpin brothers
in Taiwan who have both unwittingly hired Lau and his colleague Francis
Ng to kill the other brother, the film has reached a sublime level of sly
satire and incisive cleverness. And it goes on forever – because every
decision creates a new path and every path a new story. The film though
goes on for only ninety minutes – ending just as another story begins.
Lau Ching-wan is as usual excellent here – portraying
this befuddled yet honorable fellow who keeps finding himself in over his
head. Both Ng and Carmen Lee are fine in supporting roles and Ruby Wong
has a small but amazing few minutes of screen time.
As a complete aside - if you enjoyed this film
you might want to check out a German film called Run Lola Run that has
a similar theme and is also a terrific film.