Director Johnnie To's film The Mission is another entry into a long line of Hong Kong Triad gangster films which have dominated Hong Kong cinema since the 1980s.
The plot is extremely basic. A crime boss is being targeted by unknown assassins. After barely escaping an attempt on his life, his brother in law (played by Hong Kong mainstay Simon Yam) hires a group of mercenaries to guard the boss. The rest of the film focuses on these mercenaries (some who know each other and some who don't) building friendships and becoming a well-oiled unit.
So what makes this film different or interesting given that this plot is hardly original? Well, it's the depiction of how these mercenaries work as a team. They actually fight like realistic mercenaries. There's no leaping through the air and firing dual pistols. The mercenaries in the film are precise and calculated. They advance covering one another, they guard corners, and they show genuine concern for their lives and well-being. The action scenes are taut and simple, foregoing the traditional Hong Kong bombast for sturdy pacing. The exchange of bullets has punch and suspense. While other Hong Kong actioners would show an attack by a sniper as one minor element for the hero to overcome, The Mission portrays it as an entire dramatic set-piece where are lone attacker is easily a devastating threat for a highly trained team.
Even more enjoyable are the film's depictions of the team's vast downtime. Particularly fun is a scene showing the team waiting for their boss to get out of a doctor's appointment. To assuage their boredom, one team member starts playing soccer with a balled up piece of paper. The rest of the team slowly joins in, their stoic demeanor slowly melting to join in on the simple game. It's a nice moment, showing the growing bond between the mercenaries in a simple, unobtrusive fashion. It also illustrates that though these men are trained killers, they still have some depth. The kind of depth seldom shown in genre movies of this type.