Up there with the likes of John Woo and Ringo Lam, Johnnie To is one of the finest directors within Hong Kong cinema, and arguably the greatest of the post-Handover era (1997-present). Famed internationally for the likes of Election and Exiled, there are a number of hidden gems within To’s workload – like Throw Down, which finally (and deservedly), as part of Eureka Entertainment’s The Masters of Cinema range, receives its first Blu-ray outing in the UK.
First released in 2004, Throw Down explores the ups, downs, successes, shenanigans, blood and bruises of an ensemble cast, all of whom are linked to one man: Sze-To Bo (Louis Koo). A drunk and lousy guitarist, Bo has a reputation which is good, bad and ugly. The most significant aspect of his reputation? He was a Judo champion. Bo’s reluctance to participate in Judo and his downfall successfully parallels the martial art seemingly going out of fashion at the time.
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In Throw Down, Bo is subsequently teamed with an unlikely, yet comedic, central trio – all of whom are significantly different from one another. The trio is established from the clashing of personal quests dependent on Bo, which are held by idealist Judo fighter, Tony (Aaron Kwok), and Mona (Cherrie Ying), a hapless singer chasing her dream to make it big in Japan. Essentially, Tony wishes to fight and conquer the former champion, whilst Mona just wants a singing gig in Bo’s bar. Teaming up with Bo, they help him to help themselves.
In aiding Bo with his dodgy shenanigans – involving money, obviously – the individuals delve in the themes of friendship, honour and loyalty. It is in this nature that Throw Down lacks a real villain. With plenty of excellent Judo fights taking place, including a mass brawl, having no depiction of hero vs. villain, no ambience of bad or evil is established, in a film which aims to celebrate society, redemption, and the ways in which we confront a crisis.
Taken from a 4K restoration, this Blu-ray of Throw Down is immaculately stunning. The visuals are at such a high quality level, that To’s original vision – his use of lighting, for example – is utterly magnificent. With the extra content limited to standard definition, there is an established emphasis on the upgrade and improvement of Throw Down’s picture quality, yet the placement of the original picture quality does provide authenticity and character within this package.
As for the extra content, this Blu-ray isn’t loaded with any waste. Featuring a 40-minute interview with To, he goes into full contextualisation of not only Throw Down’s production, but of Hong Kong society during his 1970s youth in comparison to that of the then-present time (early 2000s post-Handover) – the context of this interview establishes a much welcomed personal feel to the film. Further, To goes into great detail over the need for a realistic presentation of Judo – accompanying this, in a conveniently great fashion, is a 10-minute making-of featurette, displaying the gripping and gruelling physical requirements for the success of the film. For even further contextualisation of Throw Down and its production, there are additional commentary options too.
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A common issue with Blu-ray packages is that they can be overloaded with extras, most being unwanted or undesired filler. Though not ram-packed with bonus content, the package is replete with the right content. There is an overwhelming feel to this Blu-ray package, that it is made in order to accommodate both ends of the fandom spectrum, be the viewer a hardcore follower of Hong Kong cinema or a new/casual fan. Ultimately, Johnnie To’s Throw Down – a comedic-drama masterclass in tribute to Akira Kurosawa and Sanshiro Sugata – is a thoroughly enjoyable adventure fully deserving of its elite Blu-ray package from Eureka Entertainment.
Throw Down is out now on Blu-ray as part of Eureka Entertainment’s Masters of Cinema range.