Johnnie To and Wai Ka Fai
2003, Hong Kong, 93 minutes

Without a doubt, Johnnie To and Wai Ka Fai (The Mission) are the most talented filmmakers still based in Hong Kong, and with Running on Karma they deliver their strangest work to date—and one of the coolest films in years. Although the global festival circuit is still focused on the gritty underworld thriller PTU, the team’s excellent earlier film, Running on Karma, is far more interesting, complex and challenging. It’s an amazing grab bag that successfully mixes police action, comedy, brutal violence, romance, martial arts wire work and crazy special effects with a serious philosophical exploration of Buddhist Doctrine and the concept of Karma.

Superstar Andy Lau stars as Big—a monk who left his order and turned into a womanizing, hard-drinking bodybuilder (with the physique of the young Schwarzenegger) who makes his living as a male stripper. Big is also gifted with the ability to psychically see the past life of a person (or an animal) and judge the affect Karma will have on their current incarnation. After being beaten by the police, he joins forces with a beautiful young policewoman (Cecilia Cheung), and uses his superheroic martial arts skill to anonymously fight crime. Then the movie gets weird.

This indefinable epic starts out as a detective film, transforms into a romantic comedy for the second act and finishes as a surreal exploration of cosmic law. It’s surprising, stylish, kinetic, funny, intelligent, hugely entertaining and absolutely unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Don’t miss it!

—Bruce Fletcher