Ĥ@õ (1989)
The First Time Is the Last Time


Reviewed by: mrblue
Date: 03/30/2011

Like many prison-based movies, The First Time is the Last Time centers on a "new fish", who in this case is Ma (Season Ma), who was sent to the jug for unknowingly hiding drugs for her spineless Triad boyfriend, Robert, who promises to make sure Ma doesn't get hurt as long as she "takes care" of Winnie (Carrie Ng). However, Ma soon begins to bond with Winnie, especially after hearing her story about a romance with an undercover cop (Andy Lau) gone wrong.

It is in these flashback segments where The First Time stumbles. Subscribing to most every stereotype in the undercover cop genre, they are often plodding and melodramatic, shoehorning in musical montages to substitute actual character development. A lot of the failure of these sequences is due to Andy Lau, who frankly was not doing very good work at this point in his career. Some of this could be attributed to overwork -- Lau appeared in fifteen other movies in 1989, as well as several TV series, not to mention his Cantopop output -- but Lau didn't seem to give the strength (or lack thereof) of his acting output too much importance.

Reviewer Score: 6

Reviewed by: ewaffle
Date: 08/28/2007
Summary: Carrie Ng at her best

“The First Time is the Last Time” is a not completely typical women in prison movie although it does have many of the tropes of the genre—guards who are both callous and corrupt, a horrific initiation for the newest prisoner (our heroine), a tough long-time inmate to show her how to survive, a gang of convicts who actually run much of the cell block plus the overwhelming presence of Crazy Bitch Winnie, an apparent no-hoper who the other inmates are afraid of even when she is locked in solitary confinement.

Almost all the men in the movie are despicable louts who enjoy abusing women. The only exception is Andy Lau but he has a huge secret--he is an undercover cop in the triad controlled urban wilderness and not the gallant gangster with whom Winnie falls in love. Winnie’s father is a drug addict who is happy to satisfy his cravings with money his daughter makes as a prostitute. Her pimp is typical of pimps the world over, a venal thuggish brute and her customers are disgusting slobs.

A young pimp wannabe sets up Fung to go to prison. She cops a plea for him, saying that the drugs they were caught with were hers even though she was neither a user nor a seller. He has an additional reason for wanting her in the slammer—he not only stays free but also wants her to find Winnie for him. This last bit is confusing and may have been a plot line that simply didn’t get carried out although I may have missed the reason for this.

Control of the prison is split between a prisoner gang led by the very tall and tough He-man (!) and her cohorts and the chief guard who is in league with her. Any new inmate who doesn’t have the protection of a known gangster on the outside is an easy target. Fung, or Number 7144 has no protector and no allies, although the wily prisoner Number 5354 helps her get through the first few weeks.

Crazy Bitch Winnie must have been a fun role for Carrie Ng. She got to pull out all the stops, going from sexy to pathetic, from tough to fearful, from the hardened street girl to a whimpering victim. The part almost requires overacting or at least playing everything big, loud and flamboyant and Ng does a terrific job of keeping her performance on this side of ridiculous.

While the prison uniforms are slightly revealing—plaid patterned mini-dresses—there is none of the leering salaciousness of many women in prison films. This isn’t “Reform School Girls” or even “Chained Heat”—inmates may get dragged into the shower room to get beaten up but they aren’t sexually assaulted.

The movie is structured with flashbacks telling the story of how Winnie and Fung wound up in prison. Yung, the undercover cop and Winnie made a great urban couple—she a former hooker, he an up and coming gangster who wanted to put the triads behind him. That he was actually a cop who had infiltrated the gangs and who was dependent on an increasingly unstable partner and a disloyal boss was something that Winnie discovered to her horror when accidentally overhearing Yung and his partner argue. Things are tough indeed when a girl can’t even trust her hoodlum boyfriend to be a real bad guy.

While the title could refer to a triumph for rehabilitation over recidivism we know that will not be the case. It wouldn’t be in any prison movie and especially so in one made in Hong Kong. I don’t think it would be much of a spoiler to say that almost none of the characters we have come to know are still alive when the final credits roll although the manner in which they die is sometimes more surprising than the fact that they do die.

A must see for fans of Carrie Ng—she really is extraordinary here—but not important otherwise.

Reviewer Score: 5

Reviewed by: STSH
Date: 06/17/2001
Summary: Very grim, but compelling

Another terrific performance by Carrie Ng is just one reason to watch this film. God it's bleak - nearly all the characters you'll feel something for (or against) end up dead, most in the final few minutes, but the characterizations are so well done that you can almost forgive the director such cruelty.

And whatever happened to Season Ma ? Another great, understated performance from this talented actress who appeared in only a handful of films.

Some schintillating dialogue : "This place really gives you the creep".

The extremely busy Andy doesn't disgrace himself either, and his scenes with Carrie are close to magic. And that great old trooper Meg Lam is a real heart-melter as the pregnant older lady brimming with optimism in the terrible prison environment.

This film is nearly good enough to be considered a female version of the excellent PRISON ON FIRE. Few others of this sub-genre can be. Highly recommended.

Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: jfierro
Date: 12/21/1999

Grim, gritty prison flick - is there any other kind? In this one,a naive young girl spends six months in prison for the man she loves. Fortunately, she is guided through the brutal day-to-day life by a wisened repeat offender (Lam Kin-Ming), and is protected from the prison bullies by a crazy, fearless lifer (Carrie Ng). Through a series of flashbacks, we learn how Carrie went from a beatiful young woman, to a scarred, no-nonsense prisoner. Most of the characters are typical of what you find in every prison movie, so it is up to Carrie to give the movie its weight. And, as always, she doesn't disappoint, giving a brave and powerful performance that rightfully earned a best actress nomination. Director Raymond Leung uses harsh lighting and little makeup on his actresses to emphasize the ugliness that is prison life. While the ending is predicatable and a little over-the-top, the strong direction and emotional performance by Carrie Ng more than make up for it.