Friendship Breakdown (1999)
I think John Woo has been moonlighting from his Hollywood-Nicholas Cage-love-ins, because this movie was clearly directed by him! Either that or somebody who has studied and absorbed every little ounce of his directorial style, anyway. FRIENDSHIP BREAKDOWN is a Heroic Bloodshed melodrama that feels very much like a Hong Kong movie, very much like a John Woo bullet ballet.
The plot's all there in the title. 4 young friends, very close, happy happy. One of them is training to be a cop and one of the others gets involved in the underworld. His life of crime soon causes repercussions for his friends, and their friendship is put to the test. Will it in fact break down, or is friendship stronger than... other stuff?
The movie is pitched at nearly toxic levels of melodrama, from start to finish it rams its emotional content down your throat in a manner that is sometimes a little uncomfortable. A good piece of melodrama is very tasty when you're in the right mood for it though. The movie is certainly not wall to wall bullet-fest, far from it, but there are a few action scenes throughout, and it all builds to a final reel of majory incendiary content. The whole movie is very well filmed - the coloured lighting and angled cameras with fluid movement all feel very Hong Kong. The use of rotating cameras and slow mo show a clear influence from Woo's style - an influence that is explicitly acknowledged when one of the characters picks up 2 guns and is told "Hey, just like John Woo!". At least they're not being shy about the influence.
So it's a Woo style Heroic Bloodshed movie about the stresses placed on the relationship between 4 close friends. Nothing too remarkable in the concept, but it's always good territory for an entertaining movie. The question then becomes, is it done well? In most respects the answer here is "yes". The script isn't brilliant, and some of the acting is pretty bad - but it's fast paced and includes some very nice ideas, and the cast all look good at least (the female of the 4 is a major cutie). The action is the main pay-off here, the raison d'etre, and they've definitely put in a lot of effort and pull off some very well done scenes that stand up there with the top league of HK bullet ballets.
Nice looking movie, you could probably leave your brain at the door though if not for the DVD. It's the first actual Thai DVD that I've watched, and it features a decent PAL letterboxed image, good 5.1 sound mix, and quite the worst subtitles I have ever seen. I mean, I'm used to having to re-translate subtitles as I read them, but these were just awful! Quite a bit just isn't subtitled at all (or minimally so), and the spelling and grammar make the average Mei Ah subtitle job look like Shakespeare! (Wait, that's a bad analogy). I could follow what was going on just by picking out the nouns because the plot is quite straightforward, and I don't think there was too much subtlety and depth in there for me to miss. Could be wrong though, maybe in Thai it is a deeply profound and insightful study of the human condition.
Reservations about the DVD aside, I'm glad to have the movie. It's a slick and exciting movie that should appeal to fans of Hong Kong Heroic Bloodshed. Technically very good too - my interest in Thai cinema remains strong.