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Running on Karma
Running on Karma
Actors: Andy Lau, Cecilia Cheung, Siu-Fai Cheung, Wong Chun, Karen Tong
Directors: Johnnie To, Ka-Fai Wai
Genres: Action & Adventure, Indie & Art House, Drama, Mystery & Suspense
UR     2004     1hr 33min

The great Johnnie To (The Mission, Running Out Of Time, The Heroic Trio) directs this intriguing murder mystery with a touch of Zen. Andy Lau (Infernal Affairs, The Duel), in his most daring role to date, is Biggie, a hu...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Andy Lau, Cecilia Cheung, Siu-Fai Cheung, Wong Chun, Karen Tong
Directors: Johnnie To, Ka-Fai Wai
Creators: Johnnie To, Ka-Fai Wai, Catherine Chan, Kin-Yee Au, Nai-Hoi Yau, Tin-Shing Yip
Genres: Action & Adventure, Indie & Art House, Drama, Mystery & Suspense
Sub-Genres: Hong Kong Action, Indie & Art House, Drama, Mystery & Suspense
Studio: Tai Seng
Format: DVD - Color,Widescreen,Letterboxed - Subtitled
DVD Release Date: 02/17/2004
Release Year: 2004
Run Time: 1hr 33min
Screens: Color,Widescreen,Letterboxed
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 0
Edition: Import
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Languages: English, Hindi
Subtitles: Chinese, English
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Movie Reviews

Break the Cycle, or: the Superhero Samadhi
Ian Vance | pagosa springs CO. | 03/05/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)

"While browsing through's best-of-2004 for Netflix recommendations, I chanced upon an entry regarding *Running on Karma,* a new film starring Andy Lau as an ex-Shaolin monk turned bodybuilder/stripper and karmic visionary. The premise sounded outrageously appealing, and the review suggested that the film contained a meditative subtext on the title-subject, so I instantly added it to my queue and, a few days later, settled down for a screening of this surreal, genre-defying little gem. Two hours later I emerged from the experience in a wholly different frame of mind, unsure of the film as a whole but certainly ~moved~, shaken up in a way that many films attempt - and usually fail - to achieve.

It's impossible to categorize *Running on Karma*. The film begins in ridiculously sleazy circumstances, segues into a murder mystery, shifts to romantic-comedy terrain, then enters into the philosophical sphere for the third act, a brain-bender sequence compounded by the undercurrent tragic nature of *Karma's* theme. I had some problems with this theme (see below), but overall the ease and control the filmmakers exerted over their content - especially content so borderline-bizarre and convoluted as this - made the film extremely enjoyable and refreshingly unpredictable.

Hong Kong heartthrob & box-office gold Andy Lau (*Infernal Affairs*, *House of Flying Daggers*) plays Biggie, a former monk who has abandoned his vows for a life of weight-lifting, wenching, drink and other debauched activities; moreover, he can somehow see the impending karma of those whose life is about to expire. Even swaddled in an obviously-fake muscle-suit (though it does come off more convincing than, say, *Hellboy*), Lau is effortlessly charming and sells the performance on sheer charisma alone - after awhile, one ignores the foam-creases etc. and allows suspension of disbelief to creep on in and take residence.

(SPOILERS: The muscle-suit ~does~ have an integral role to play, as well, for it represents the over-development of the ineffectual ego-aspect; when Biggie has reached transcendence, the bulk is shed before aesthetic leanness. But I'm getting ahead of myself...)

After getting busted in a strip club, Biggie meets Lee (Cecilia Cheung), a police woman whose main role in this film is to be as cute as possible (success!); he subsequently helps her work on a murder-mystery featuring dueling yoga masters engaged in a feud that extends back centuries. In a typical thriller, this murder-mystery would occupy most of the running time and climax with the usual nail-biting complications; in *Karma* it is solved before the halfway mark (!) and the romantic comedy aspects then dominate, as Lee falls hard for Biggie, investigating his past and, yes, being as cute as possible to draw his attention. Unfortunately she has already attracted his third eye attention: Biggie can see a miasma-shroud of disastrous consequences swarming about her shoulders, and he futilely resists the pangs of love against this harrowing vision of past-life crimes.

Enough of the basics. I'm not going to spoil the more overt aspects of the ending, but I do wish to comment on the use of religious/philosophical themes. Now, karma is one of the most misunderstood phrases of Eastern Philosophy: in the west it is generally associated with "what you do now will come back to you later", which is actually ~dharma~; ~karma~ refers to "what you did in a previous life effects your life now, and what you do in this life will effect your future lives." This misapplication of Hindu terminology is prevalent to the western mass consciousness and is a mistake doubtful to be rectified anytime soon, for no other reason that that 'karma' is the catchier word... Semantics aside, I had a conflictive issue with, yet admiration of, the rigid/fluid incorporation of karma in this film. My admiration stemmed the surreal construction of the third act as a whole and the pivotal decision of Biggie therein; my issues are seated in the deeper understanding of how karma has been corrupted - as all "holy doctrines", regardless of culture or theism, are eventually corrupted by man. For in certain Asian countries/cultures, the highest honor on the wheel of karma is to be born a man; women are relegated to the second-or-third tier status, in the same league as dogs or pigs. Naturally this is used to re-enforce patriarchal social-structures and to preserve the necessary evils inherent to humanity - sex slaves and prostitutes, beggars and landmine victims, the downtrodden and poverty-stricken - the plight of these awful existences is found fault in the actions of a previous life; the only course for the damned and destitute is to be humble and charitable in their fate-chosen place, and hopefully move up the ladder or overcome completely the cycle of karma upon death. In other words, karma is used as a "divine mandate" for man's tendency toward pecking-order social pyramids; it's control-oriented balderdash used to exploit, a corruption as pernicious as the original sin guilt-complex endemic to Catholicism. Having seen up close and personal the ramifications of this comfort-zone integration in SE Asia, I was conflicted by *Running on Karma's* ~initial~ literal interpretation of this quandary, yet still moved by the resultant denouement as Biggie transcends his murderous intent towards Sun Ko, striding away from the cycle of karma with a cigarette in hand.

One of the most unusual and original films I've seen to date, *Running on Karma* merits four ½ stars and my highest recommendations. Break the cycle.
Not at all what you'd expect
Trevor Willsmer | London, England | 06/16/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Running On Karma is almost Ka-Fei Wai and Johnnie To's take on a superhero movie as former monk turned muscleman and male stripper Andy Lau (almost unrecognisable in a remarkably convincing muscle suit that makes the Hulk look a wimp) finds his ability to see the Karma that leads to people's deaths drawing him into protecting Cecilia Cheung's rookie detective (herself doomed to die for her sins as a Japanese soldier in a former life) and solving some outrageous crimes. Or at least for the first two thirds, before it takes a surprisingly sharp U-turn into philosophical and tragic territory as the two try to reverse their bad karma in different but equally drastic ways. 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. Mostly wonderful."
Karmic Visions Of The Past , Present, And Future!
Ernest Jagger | Culver City, California | 08/14/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

""Running On Karma," has to be one of the most entertaining films that I have seen in a long time. I truly enjoyed this film, and highly recommend it to everyone. Not only is this film very entertaining, but there are an equal amount of funny scenes in this film as well as tragic. The film stars a character by the name of Biggie (Andy Lau) as an ex-shaolin monk with Karmic visions. Biggie gets his name due to the fact that he is a body building wrestler and strip dancer, with huge muscles. However, there is more to Biggie than meets the eye. Not only does he wrestle for a living and do strip dancing, but as an ex-shaolin monk, he has the ability to see other peoples karma. 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.

The viewer is introduced to Biggie in the films introduction. As he is doing a strip tease dance in a club, he is arrested by an undercover policewoman (Cecelia Cheung) for violating decency laws. However, this crossing of paths between these to characters will have a profound impact on the both of them. One side note quickly on the character of Andy Lau in the film. One sees a large and heavily muscled body builder, and this was due to the special effects department that incorporated a muscle suit for Biggie to wear. And I believe for the film, they did a good job. Moreover, it was necessary for what will eventually occur toward the end of the film. As one sees a transformation in his character.

Furthermore, Andy Lau sure played the character of Biggie in a very funny, witty, and serious way. His character alone was a true joy to watch. Now, one more thing. 'Suspension of Disbelief' is a necessary ingredient for many films. Look at "Lord of the Rings." For the viewer to appreciate and enjoy this delightful film, put aside any Westernized or preconceived ideas of life in the hereafter. Just for the pure value of entertainment, take the film with a grain of salt. The film's main premise is that past mistakes affect our present state of affairs. If you did harm in your past life, you will suffer the consequences in this life. And when Biggie (Andy Lau) meets up with this policewoman, (Cecelia Cheung) he sees visions of her past life.

But what does Biggie see in this policewoman's past life that bothers him? Is there something in her past that caused others to suffer? And if so, what was it? The films narrative follows Biggie as he tries to reverse this policewoman's Karma, by interfering with her life in order to protect her. And in doing so, something occurs that gives Biggie hope. Or can her Karma be reversed? She is in love with him, but he is also unsure whether or not he can help her. Can he help her? Or is her fate sealed? Maybe his actions will alter her life? Then maybe not? There are some very good action scenes in the film, not only with Biggie (Andy Lau) but with other strange characters in the film as well. Plus, the way the films narrative evolves is very interesting and you find yourself drawn into ALL characters in the film. This film really works. I think you will enjoy this film---I sure did. Give the film a chance and I think you will like it. It truly is a different kind of film than what one is usually used to. Highly recommended."
A well made movie
Helen Ng | 03/31/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I like this movie a lot because it symbolize a lot of things in life. Makes you think twice before doing something wrong and why things are like they are. I was going to assume this is going to be another "Wham Bam makes no sense Andy Lau movie" but i was wrong."