One Nite in Mongkok
Reviewed by Lee Alon
You can't keep a good city down, and with Derek
Yee's massively straight-faced nocturnal crime flick, this particular notion
makes itself once more apparent with regards to trusty old Hong Kong.
Seven Elevens bathed in fluorescents, sleazy
cheapo hotels, dark alleys, teeming shopping districts and rambunctious
sidewalk snack fests. Sure, all regulars in Johnnie To and Wong Kar Wai
movies, but it’s been sometime since we’ve seen them in a project so effortlessly
evocative of all the unique atmosphere HK has to offer, easily bringing
back images of the fragrant harbor's unbeatable charm. Plus, it comes in
to salvage the day exactly when we thought the cops-and-robbers genre took
an unsolicited sojourn somewhere up in the mountains. What a refreshing
ONIMK sees two of HK's most promising (and by
now established) thespians give it their best. Daniel Wu enters the fray
as Lai Fu, an almost mechanically introspective no-name assassin hired
by Mongkok triad operative Liu Ge (embodied by reliable Lam Suet) as expeditor
of certain underworld disagreements requiring resolution.
Armed with a gun, heaps of money and stoic
dispositions, Lai Fu begins prowling the vibrant borough's streets, in
search of his assigned target.
However, things change once he meets fellow mainlander
Dan Dan, a decent person eking a meager existence by prostituting herself
to the pleasure of dubious clients. Here, Cecilia Cheung simply shines
as the female lead, apparently well recovered from her back injury of two
years ago, and definitely looking her sexiest since 1999's memorable Fly
Me to Polaris.
Lai Fu and Dan Dan hit it off following a customer-related
incident in which the former literally saves her ass, and proceed to trawl
around the place, with Lai Fu obviously not in his element, maybe due to
Dan Dan's tagging along and repeatedly benefiting from the young man's
newly-acquired wad of crisp bills. Realizing his former sweetheart got
herself mangled in a gangland-related car wreck (driven by Made in Hong
Kong's Sam Lee) doesn't precisely help his focus, either.
Matters take a different course when the story
shifts to indulge in goings on at a CID unit led by a veteran detective
(done by Alex Fong). His mixed team, comprising experienced officers as
well as total novices, eventually becomes embroiled in Lai Fu's fatal odyssey
as they attempt to keep him from carrying out his maligned mission. En
route we take detours into several semi-related nighttime antics, with
the CID crew slowly getting closer to ending Lai Fu and Dan Dan's haphazard
escape. Not only do both plot lines enjoy excellent scripting, they moreover
showcase the film's enthralling duality, as we track vagabonds and cops,
each faction with its own internal turmoil and background. Overall, ONIMK
does very well in depicting protagonists, and when the two threads finally
converge, the movie delivers with considerable impact.
Although everyone in the main cast contributes
their fair share, kudos go mostly to Daniel and Cecilia. Each has a concrete
presence here, lending characters believable, coherent personalities and
instant viewer identification. Wu's practically indestructible, inscrutable
and at the same time, timid. Cheung manages a versatile performance of
laudable depth, concurrently lascivious, honest and wittily funny. And
Alex Fong's portrayal of the jaded yet humane police lifer challenges preconceptions,
putting a twist on this rather pigeon-holed role.
But above all else, One Nite in Mongkok's an atmospheric
ode to both genre and locale. Its camera work exposes every environmental
component with care, granting equal import to the seedy, banal, titillating
and tacky. Via such ace cinematography and a moody soundtrack that sticks
in the mind, this film indeed makes one feel as if they are going through
the night themselves, the hours passing while Hong Kong celebrates an oddly
disjointed Christmas Eve, day turning into darkness.
Add masterful acting, and we have before us a
tour de force combining the gritty, hard hitting elegance of good crime
movies with the stylish intelligence of proper indie. Unarguably one of
the best releases of 2004, and a title sure to engage your DVD player for
more than one night.
Directed by Derek Yee
Starring Cecilia Cheung, Daniel Wu, Alex Fong,
Lam Suet, Anson Leung
2004, Putonghua/Cantonese, 110 minutes
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