Soi Cheang’s Accident plays tonight and tomorrow afternoon at the Walter Reade, helping to kick off the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s annual woolly Film Comment Selects series.
The hitman subgenre is about as worn out as they come, but with Accident, Pou-Soi Cheang proves that interesting things can still be done with it. It’s actually a group of hitpeople here, and the twist is that instead of crude snipings or stabbings, this bunch dispatch their assigned targets by arranging precisely choreographed, elaborate “accidents”. The tactic assumedly throws cops off the scent of both the squad and their clients. In a startling scene near the beginning, a man stuck in traffic exits his car, yanks down a hanging banner, and is showered in glass from a breaking window above. “Just one of those freaky things,” we think, but we soon know better. In the paranoid fear of everyday situations it instills and reinforces, Accident is a Hong Kong cousin to the tremendously entertaining Final Destination franchise, in which everything from telephone lines to paper bags are sinister instruments of death. Slick and diverting, it’s surely Cheang’s ticket to Hollywood jobs, if he wants them.
In a line of work that requires flawless rigor, the team—The Brain, Uncle, Woman, and Fatty—shows signs of sloppiness from the get-go when Uncle leaves a cigarette butt at the scene of a job. It turns out he’s losing his mind, though leader Fai (The Brain) remains loyal to and protective of him (one of this thriller’s genuinely sweet touches). When an out-of-control bus tears through the scene of another job, killing people, Fai’s paranoic grip on reality begins to steadily loosen. “Was this an accident?” Fai is asked, and he doesn’t know what to say—just like he’s not sure his wife’s car crash death was just fate. Accident‘s second half deals with his stalking of a mysterious insurance agent who Fai thinks is trying to kill his team. It’s one of Accident’s achievements that you want to see this sad, cool murderer get his man. Exiting the film, you’ll feel suspicious, fearful, and ill at ease—highly recommended.