Running On Karma (AKA Mr.
Big - Running On Karma)
Reviewed by YTSL
When people ask me why I love Hong Kong movies,
one of the reasons I give them is that “they’re much less “no holds barred”
and constrained by genre -- and, consequently, far less predictable --
than Hollywood works.” Another is that many an offering from this
largely government subsidy-less cinema actually can seem like labors of
love on the part of their (primary) film-makers. Stories like Peter
Chan having paid Maggie Cheung’s salary so that she could appear in his
“Comrades, Almost a Love Story”, and Ann Hui’s “Song of the Exile” having
been a semi-autobiographical effort, only lend credence to this belief
of mine. Then there’s the senior helmer of this hard to categorize
and classify -- because it starts off as the sort of comedy many people
had thought it would entirely be but then also veers into action, (crime)
drama, romantic and religious-philosophical territories -- Milkyway Image
production having stated earlier this year that: “Apart from making a living,
we want to make the kind of movies we like. [After all, t]here are
many other ways of making a living" (Johnnie To, as quoted in the HKIFF's
"Hong Kong Panorama, 2002-2003", 2003:84).
The Category IIB rated -- and more, I’d wager,
for violence than anything else -- RUNNING ON KARMA begins with a scene
of an individual known as (Mr.) Big (played by Andy Lau in the muscular
equivalent of the rubber fat suit he wore for nearly all of “Love on a
Diet”) performing a strip-tease -- along with other exhibitionistic inclined
men -- in a night spot filled with screaming women (The loudest of whom
might well be Cecilia Cheung’s character, Lee Fung Yee). A few scenes
later, it’s all chaos in the club, however, as it’s subject to a police
raid that officially began with Big’s enthusiastically obeying Lee Fung
Yee’s cries to take it all off, only to have the bird-like young female
pull out a police badge and announce that she’s an undercover officer upon
his having done so.
In the meantime, and -- as it turns out -- not
all that far way, another group of police officers were carrying out a
murder investigation at a generally messy as well as bloody scene.
Suddenly, a police dog starts barking loudly at a particular rectangular
shaped tin that might not otherwise have attracted all that much attention
from anyone. After its lid is opened, the police find what looked,
at first glance, to be a disembodied head of an Indian man inside the container.
When its eyes open and glare out at the CID officers who had peered into
the tin though, they realize that the head actually belongs, and still
is attached, to a tall and thin living individual who somehow was able
to fit all of himself into that very limited space and -- upon being ordered
by the police to do so -- easily plus improbably emerge from out of it.
After getting handcuffed and chained, the Indian
man -- whose murder victim was another Indian man, one who he was revealed
to have known well -- was put into the back of a police car and seated
in between two CID men. Before they got very far into their journey
back to the police station, however, the suspect managed -- again, with
disconcerting ease -- to make his escape. Over the course of his
getting pursued through lit streets and darker alleyways, this individual
-- who sometimes looked to have been flying rather than running, and was
later revealed to be some kind of expert martial artist -- crosses path
with the likes of Lee Fung Yee and Big. Indeed, that duo might well
have helped him escape; what with Lee Fung Yee having accidentally shot
and killed the police dog who was giving chase, and Big having attracted
the attention of some of the CID officers (who proceeded to cuff and haul
him into custody before sending the illegal entrant into Hong Kong across
the Mainland China-HKSAR border).
At this fairly early point in RUNNING ON KARMA,
little had gotten revealed as to what this Johnnie To and Wai Ka Fai co-directed
film would daringly develop into and where it would eventually go.
Granted that the awe-inspiring -- in both its ambition and execution --
movie’s two lead characters had been introduced (to the audience and each
other). However, they could be said to not yet have been properly
introduced since there’s quite a bit of back story to both of them.
Hopefully, it won’t be too much of a spoiler to make known here that Big
may now look to be a seemingly happy go lucky plus very game entertainer
but was formerly a Buddhist monk (and one trained to be an expert martial
arts exponent at that). Also, that his reason for ceasing to be a
holy man was not so much -- like he had told Lee Fung Yee -- because being
a monk didn’t bring in any money but due to his having come by the often
upsetting ability to see other beings’ karma, future fates plus previous
incarnations (after a series of incidents that included the murder of his
friend, Jade, by a man named Sun Ko and Big’s accidentally killing an innocent
sparrow in a fit of anger plus frustration over the elusiveness of her
For example, Big was able to discern that the
Indian murderer and murder victim had had connections to each other and
also a Chinese woman (who would lose her right arm) in this life but also,
and albeit in different forms (including a beetle), in a previous incarnation.
More saliently for a larger portion of RUNNING ON KARMA, he also could
see Lee Fung Yee’s having spiritual links with a Japanese soldier who had
murdered and decapitated many people in his life. What he chooses
to do with this knowledge -- and she upon this information getting shared
with her -- is the prime determinant of the not easy-to-correctly predict
path that Mr. Big and Ms. Lee -- and also the often startling movie as
a whole -- end up taking. Suffice to say here that I found myself
being very impressed plus satisfied by the Yuen Bun action directed work’s
turn of the events -- and meaningful underlying message(s) -- on the two
occasions (thus far) that I have viewed this thoroughly thought-provoking
My rating for the film: 9.