Once a Thief (1991)
Reviewed by: dragyn on 2001-03-31
Summary: Surreal Tragedy/Comedy
"Once A Thief" is a strange, but not unpleasant movie. It is a surreal comedy, with tragic elements thrown in for good measure; it is easy to imagine that director John Woo was unable to make the movie as a straight comedy, and had to add a bit of his trademark tragedy.

Lead actor Chow Yun-Fat is wonderful, and lends his usual solidarity and weight as an actor to the film, along with an undeniable talent for comedy. Leslie Cheung, cast as Chow's "brother" and rival in love, is however more of a let down. He seems to possess insufficient presence to keep the viewer's attention when Chow is not on-screen. His character has none of the charm of Chow's, either. Cherie Cheung as the love interest/"sister" is also a problem; she pouts, whinges and snivels so much that she looks as though she'd be more at home in a Jackie Chan movie. John Woo is as ever an absolutely awesome director, and adds an air of stylish, artistic, quality to the whole film.

Although very enjoyable and funny, the movie is somewhat "patchy" - Woo leaps from tragedies of earth-shattering proportions to silly, surreal, often slapstick comedy wihtout really informing the audience whether they should be laughing or crying. Because of this, the watcher can take neither the comedy or the tragedy seriously. Without the comedy, a successful tragedy film could have been made; and without the tragedy, a successful comedy film could have been made. Used side by side, neither elements work fully.

It is interesting to note that John Woo made "Once A Thief" straight after making "Bullet in the Head", a gruelling movie which almost drove him to a breakdown. He chose to make a more light-hearted film to restore his peace of mind.

"Once A Thief" is great fun, and has the makings of a masterpiece; I rate it 7/10.