Take a degenerate gambler with a history of greatness, a leather coat wearing hotshot with a point to prove, an aspiring singer and actor down on her luck, mix in some Judo and a karaoke lounge bar that ties them all together and you’ve got Johnnie To’s Throw Down.
Tony (Aaron Kwok) comes to town looking for a fight, a specific fight with Judo aficionado Szeto Bo (Louis Koo). However, Szento Bo leads a completely different life now; he’s a terrible gambler with a drinking problem that runs and works in a bar. Settling for the saxophone player, Tony fights him in the street and dislocates his shoulder, leaving an opening in the lounge bar band…
At this time Mona (Cherrie Ying) is getting rudely evicted from her accommodation (not paying rent for six months will usually gain that reaction) but she is not letting that get in the way of her dream to become a singer. Or an actor. Or something famous, she’s not picky. That dream leads her to a late night karaoke bar to audition for the lounge band. Poor Szeto Bo has a hell of a hangover and is in no mood to listen to live music, especially when Tony bursts through the door, saxophone-a-blazing to make the audition a duet. Not what you’re needing on a raging hangover, Szeto Bo asks the pair to accompany him on an errand that turns out to be a scheme to steal fifty grand from a local bookie called Brother Savage (Eddie Cheung). The three form an unlikely rag tag trio, successfully lifting the money, dividing it up and allowing Tony to challenge, and beat, Szeto Bo. Unsatisfied with the ease of the fight, Tony sticks around, waiting it out for a real challenge. Mona stays because she has somewhere to showcase her voice.
Later that night all three backstories of the main characters culminate in the lounge bar. Mona’s agent, Szeto Bo’s Master and Brother Savage are in the audience as our trio performs, each wanting money and as tensions rise, violence breaks out in the bar. Just as well everyone involved is familiar with Judo in some capacity. As the carnage tears through the venue, Lee Kong (Tony Leung Ka Fai) just sits and observes but eventually steps outside and takes everyone out, breaking bones and taking no prisoners. Tony has found his challenge!
Judo is the foundation of this film and is the art that connects the three protagonists.. That being said, there are but a handful of fight scenes in the movie. The practice is about focus, putting your opponent off balance and taking them to the floor. Resilience is a must, as you will probably be on your arse a lot. Digging deep and getting back up to fight takes a lot of mental strength. Tony suffers disappointment in his fight with Szeto Bo, the challenge not being anything like he imagined and yet he sticks around, biding his time for the real fight to reveal itself. Mona is made homeless, has to beg for a lounge singer job, her father is trying to persuade her to give up on her career in entertainment but nothing can phase her, she will become a singer even if she has to move to Japan to do so. Very well hidden within the narrative, Szeto Bo’s vision is deteriorating and for years he allowed it to be the reason for his gambling and alcohol abuse. Spending time with his two new companions, Szeto Bo realises that only he can stop the cycle of misery. He’s been on the floor for two years, and now he can dust himself off and try again.
The Blu-Ray is full of additional and informative content, such as a 40 minutes interview with Johnnie To, a behind the scenes making of featurette, numerous commentaries plus an English dubbed version of the film. This is well worth a watch if only for a few scenes just for a giggle. The dubbing is timed well but none of the emotion of the scene transfers across from the performance of the voice actors.
I mean absolutely no disrespect to the art of Judo but when captured on film it’s not the most exciting of the martial arts and I wouldn’t class this as an action film. The way Johnnie To spaces out the Judo scenes are visually stimulating, almost making this brutal art look akin to well choreographed dance. The fight scenes are held on wonderful set designs and locations, coupled with a beautiful musical score and the 4K restoration, making Throw Down a stunning production to behold. At times the characters and how their relationships grow can be a touch confusing or even bizarre but ultimately that doesn’t affect the overall message of this film: get knocked down, learn from it and come back stronger. Not a million miles away from the tone of Chumbawamba’s 90s feel good anthem, Tubthumping.
Dir: Johnnie To
Scr: Nai-Hoi Yau, Tin-Shing Yip, Kin-Yee Au
Cast: Louis Koo, Aaron Kwok, Cherrie Ying, Tony Leung Ka Fai, Eddie Cheung
Prd: Catherine Chan, Tiffany Chen, Elos Gallo, Stephan Lam, Johnnie To
DOP: Sui-Keung Cheng
Music: Peter Kam
Country: Hong Kong/China
Run time: 95 mins
Throw Down is available on Blu-ray on 18th May 2020