Friday, September 5, 2008

Once a Thief

Zong heng si hai; action comedy, Hong Kong / China, 1991; D: John Woo, S: Chow Yun-Fat, Leslie Cheung, Cherie Chung, Kong Chu, Kenneth Tsang

Hong Kong. Jimmy, Joe and Cherry are three orphan kids and best friends. They get under influence by both the crime boss Chow who taught them to steal on the street and by a kind police officer, Chu, who taught them to be good. 20 years later, the happy trio is now grown up and decided to become honest and stop stealing valuable art. But Chow forces them to steal a famous painting in France - after the heist, Joe ends up in a wheelchair. Jimmy and Cherry fall in love and stop working for Chow. He decides to kill them, but is arrested, while it turns out Joe was just faking his handicap.

Unpretentious and elegant cult comedy "Once a Thief" is a complete opposite in the serious opus of action master John Woo, an entirely untypical film, but also one of his 2-3 best achievements. Actually, considering he crafted hilarious situations with such an easy hand, it's a real pity Woo didn't try out the genre of comedy more often, since his characters here are so full of positive energy and charm that it is a joy to watch: at moments, their humor even manages to overshadow the brilliant action sequences. Abundant with wacky gags—the heroes spot invisible laser beams in the mansion by looking through a glass of vine (!); Cherry steals the safe key of the banker she is dancing with; Joe conducts break-dance in his wheelchair; a microwave explodes and catapults a flaming basketball into the criminal, sending him through the window; a painting connected to high voltage—but also with a touching, motherly care for its (moral) characters, and, of course, virtuoso directed action sequences, "Thief" proves that there are no always the same movies by one author, but that every artist has his or her other side.


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