Expect the Unexpected

Reviewed by YTSL

The first time I checked out this 1998 Milkyway Image production, I found it to be an acceptable but not all that majorly impressive piece of work.  Having had the good fortune to re-view this Johnnie To-produced and Patrick Yau-directed film on a big screen a week ago, here’s reporting there being a positive change in the way I think and feel about it.  Although this was not totally unexpected, given my generally favorable reactions to movies with which this effort’s principal actors (E.g., Lau Ching Wan, Simon Yam, Ruby Wong) as well as auteur Johnnie To have been involved, it still was somewhat revelatory to realize that that whose title announces its intent and capacity to shock can provide one with a moving viewing experience even after one knows what surprises are in store for its audience.

Ruby Wong, Simon Yam, Lau Ching Wan, Hui Siu Hung and Yo Yo Mung
Indeed, I’d go as far as to suggest that this film -- and its dark yet arguably affirmative “seize the moment” message -- might be best appreciated after one has had time to reflect on, not just be emotionally and visually assailed by, the incidents that emphasize that one really ought to EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED (in life as well as this offering).  This is not to say that it is a work that does not reveal any charms (which is by no means restricted to that supplied by the luminescent Yoyo Mung’s presence in the picture) when one first encounters it.  Rather, my strong sense is that this very well-acted ensemble piece -- which memorably depicts the regular lives and often trivial preoccupations of a tight special police unit (whose members include those portrayed by Simon Yam, Lau Ching Wan, Ruby Wong, Hui Siu-hung and Raymond Wong) as well as their crime-fighting efforts against two gangs of criminals -- is more meaningful layers and has greater depth than your average crime drama.
Lau Ching Wan and our favorite supporting actor - Lam Suet
Somewhat relatedly, one of the bigger surprises for some viewers of EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED might well be how talk filled it is:  I.e., not only is the audience made privy to such as the interrogation of a captured bumbler of an attempted bank robber (who is simultaneously amusingly and touchingly played by Lam Suet) but they are also treated to quite a few relational ruminations by pretty much all of the crimebusters.  In fact, at least two of the movie’s major subplots involve the attempted figuring out by colleagues of who are the real objects of affection of particular individuals.  Additionally, even the previously-mentioned cross-examination inside of a police station ends up with the criminal talking lovingly about his family, who remain in a particularly poverty-stricken part of Mainland China while he ventured far afield to try to come by money to adequately feed them.
 
Still, it is not as if EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED lacks rather intense and real-looking gun battles, car chases and other action sequences.  Neither is it without some wonderful moments in which actions are shown to definitely speak louder than words (I think particularly of the scenes in which:  Ruby Wong puts grapes into Raymond Wong’s mouth at varying speeds; and Lau Ching Wan and Simon Yam take turns to try to batter down the door of an individual who their characters obviously care quite a bit for).  Also, although some might find them overly sappy, I will admit to liking those sections of the film which bathe Yoyo Mung with a warm glow and herald her presence with the onslaught of synthesized musical vibes (before sometimes segueing into conversation and interaction but other times not even that).
All in all then, my revised verdict is this is one technically proficient and materially interesting work that is largely appealing and more thought-provoking -- and, because it succeeds in making you care about its main characters, ultimately gut-wrenching -- than it might initially seem.  It must be emphasized though that EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED not only improves upon a second viewing but also really benefits from having easy-to-read subtitles (something which its VHS and VCD versions apparently lack).  As such, it might have to be one of those movies which one ought to only -- unfortunately, if you don’t have the opportunity to do either -- view on DVD or a big screen.


My rating for the film:  8.


Hui Siu Hung, Ruby and Raymond Wong

DVD Information:

Distributed by Universe

The transfer is generally good  - certainly better than the above picts indicate.

Letterboxed

Cantonese and Mandarin language tracks 

Subtitles:  Chinese, English, Nil

8 Chapters

It includes only it's own trailer.

The sub-titles are easy to read as they fall in the black box below the picture.

There are lots of extras on this DVD - amazing for a HK DVD:

Star Files - Lau Ching-wan, Simon Yam, Yo Yo Mung, Johnnie To, Patrick Yau.

Some very short interviews with Yo Yo, Ruby, Raymond and Johnnie To - but though the questions are in English the responses are not sub-titled.

A segment showing outtakes - but I would not watch it until after viewing the film as it has spoilers within - as does the trailer.

A five minute showing of the premiere with conversations with Lau, Raymond and Simon.