Running on Karma is a new blu-ray release starring Andy Lau as an ex-Shaolin monk turned bodybuilder. This is the second film starring Andy Lau in which he wears a prosthetic suit. In his previous film, Love on a Diet, he wore a fat suit, while in this film, he wears a muscle suit. He gets mixed up with a police woman going after a killer. Mix in some laughs, comic book villains, some very bloody deaths, some serious action, discussions of the nature of the universe and predestination; shake well and you get an idea of what this film by Johnnie To is like. Much of the credit here has to go to Ka-Fei Wei, who also wrote as well as co-directed, but it’s certainly a much more impressive collaboration than the disappointing Fulltime Killer. Lau is extremely good, the premise works much better than it should and most importantly, you get to care about the characters.
Cecilia Cheung and Andy Lau shine like usual for you loyal fans. It is ultimately a Buddhist parable about the nature of karma. There were some cuts in the Mainland China edition to meet the requirements for release there. However, I didn’t see a huge absence of material in this version. I believe that people inclined to study Karma probably know more about it than the film covers so enough said on that. I’d recommend meditation, serious study and training with an expert over any film designed for entertainment. This ability to see other peoples karma, is one of the reasons he left his life as a monk. Yet, there is more to this than I wish to divulge. To label this in one genre would be the height of arrogance, because despite being advertised as an action film, it is far from it. In fact it’s far from anything. Plus, the way the films narrative evolves is very interesting and you find yourself drawn into ALL characters in the film.
What makes it worse is that the viewer can never forget that it IS a suit! Andy’s head is too small to go with the rest of his body, and the foam rubber muscles bend and are not realistic. I can’t help but dock a few points for this. Also, Running on Karmatends to get extremely muddled and weak when it wanders into karma and destiny land. It might have been better had the film stuck to a more traditional method of storytelling. The violence in the film stops just short of being gratuitious. In fact, it is quite purposeful and well done. As a whole, the film has a little of everything that attracts me. Though it’s true that Andy Lau’s muscle suit really plays no part in the plot of the movie, it does give his character his unique personality. This sudden shift is really unfortunate as both the Lau and Cheung are incredibly likeable in their roles and deserved a much better script.
All in all, there is more good than bad, and it is a film I enjoyed, as long as I didn’t focus too much on the karma portion of the film. For example, I don’t understand what the director’s point of creating such character as an over-muscled monk, showing him naked every 10 minutes? A dressed and a slim one would also perfectly do! That aside, there is no doubt about it, Running On Karma is an excellent film. It diverts into every conceivable genre and gets them perfect while retaining an excellent mood. Johnnie To is one of the greatest directors ever in this century, but with this movie he showed me at what kind of a level a good director has to drop down so you get at least good money income in theaters. Not his best, but certainly far from his worst. Semantics aside, Andy Lau fans will be pleased and will want to watch this film over and over again.