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  Throw Down D'You Do Judo?
Year: 2004
Director: Johnnie To
Stars: Louis Koo, Aaron Kwok, Cherrie Ying, Tony Ka Fai Leung, Eddie Cheung, Jordan Chan, Lo Hoi Pang, Calvin Choi, Jack Kau, Albert Au, Yeung Fan, Wing Chung, Kwok Park Yin, Chui Ka Ho, Cheung Wai Kit, Joe Lee
Genre: Drama, ActionBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: The martial art of judo is not as popular in Hong Kong and China as it used to be, but that does not stop Tony (Aaron Kwok) dedicating his life to it as a matter of philosophy and ambition. That ambition includes bettering other people with his combat moves, incapacitating them with a well-aimed throw or leg hold, as he does with his bouncer outside a nightclub in Hong Kong who always thinks he is big enough to beat the slighter Tony, but never is. Once inside and with an extra hundred dollars in his pocket for winning the bet, Tony seeks out the owner, Sze-To Bo (Louis Koo), who used to be a master at judo before he gave it all up to basically become an alcoholic...

Audiences familiar with director Johnnie To's work back in 2004 were not prepared for this disarmingly sincere tribute to both judo and his favourite filmmaker, Japanese maestro Akira Kurosawa, with the result that Throw Down was considered a disappointment among those who preferred his offbeat, emotional action thrillers. It was certainly emotional and offbeat, but not in the service of a plot that showed off To's skill with the more traditional Hong Kong action sequences - nobody draws a gun here to get the better of an opponent, and if there are fights, they involve characters rolling around on the floor or ground showing off their judo technique, or lack of it.

Judo, as a relatively new martial art, was not perhaps offered the same respect as kung fu away from Japan, not as widespread in its native country anyway, despite what Brian Jacks would tell you. Therefore that was another reason this effort was judged a flop, but someone with the talent of To can find his lesser works picking up interest as well, and Throw Down did gather a cult following eventually, albeit one with smaller numbers than something like his Election films; despite a traditional theme of seeking a more fulfilling existence through martial arts, not exclusive to this film by any means, this did not have the same enthusiasm for showy violence that might be expected.

If you were a practitioner of judo, you may get more out of this, which more specifically was a tribute to Kurosawa's debut, not a film seen much outside of the Far East, if at all, though it was concerned with judo as well. In a move to be more inclusive there was a somewhat arbitrary theme about not giving up on your dreams you could find all over cinema of this era, not solely Hong Kong's contributions either, so Tony has never given up his ambition to live better through the fighting style, Bo has given up his ambitions therefore is living a thwarted, disappointed life shot through with petty crime and booze, and the third part of this three point central relationship is Cherrie Ying's Mona, who has moved from Taiwan to Hong Kong to try her luck as a singer in nightclubs there.

The fact that she is considering whether she should give up her dreams too was another theme, but she is giving them up in Hong Kong for she is now setting her heart on Japan to make it big, tying in with the tribute to Kurosawa since that was his homeland. Bo has it worse, for he is going blind and soon will not be fit to participate in the judo he was so effective at years ago, so Tony wishes to get that battle with him over with before Bo's affliction renders that impossible. Even more complications arise when gangster Tony Ka Fai Leung turns out to be a judo fanatic too (there's a lot of it about if this really is dying out) and he wants to fight Bo as well, though his reasons are definitely more sinister than Tony's, who is undergoing a journey of the spirit. This was all very well, but if you did not buy into the notion that you can be ennobled by beating people up then you would be wondering what the fuss was about, especially since judo is a method of disabling opponents rather than prolonging combat. Nevertheless, it was well presented, and had a soulful melancholy at odds with its hopeful characters. Music by Peter Kam.

[Eureka release this on Blu-ray with the following features:

LIMITED EDITION O-CARD SLIPCASE [2000 units]
1080p presentation on Blu-ray, from a stunning 4K restoration
Cantonese and English audio options
Optional English subtitles
Brand new and exclusive feature-length audio commentary by Asian film expert Frank Djeng (NY Asian Film Festival)
Audio commentary by Hong Kong film expert Ric Meyers
Lengthy interview with director Johnnie To (40 mins)
Making of Throw Down featurette
Theatrical trailer and TV spots
Reversible sleeve
PLUS: a collector's booklet featuring new writing on the film.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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