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Director: Felix Chong
Cast: Ekin Cheng, Jordan Chan, Alex Fong, Candice Yu On-on, Conroy Chan Chi-Chung, Kwok Cheung Tsang, Ben Yuen, Sze-kwan Cheng, Wilfred Lau, Michelle Ye
1 hr 35 mins
Released By: Scorpio East Pictures and Golden Village Pictures
Rating: NC-16
Official Website: http://www.mediaasia.com/onceagangster/

Opening Day: 20 May 2010


Celebrity cook Roast Pork (Jordan Chan) is known for his culinary sleight of hand, but hardly anyone realizes he used to be a young and dangerous slayer who cut human flesh rather than poultry meat. Now a family man who strives to be a caring father, he finds his idyllic life turn topsy-turvy when his Triad mentor comes out of nowhere and commands him to run for the “Dragon Head” in the underworld.

Roast Pork’s only chance to extricate himself from this quagmire is to lose the election to another candidate called Sparrow (Ekin Cheng), who supposedly is the designated heir apparent to the previous kingpin. Ironically enough, Sparrow has found his true calling in academia while serving terms in prison. He has set his mind to getting into the best university in Hong Kong rather than re-donning his Triad cloak.

While these two reluctant candidates are racking their brains to outwit each other so that they can stay out of the race, their inglorious pasts eventually catch up with them as their followers are plunged into mayhem and bloodshed on pain of death to get their leaders onto the throne.

Movie Review:

You should know right away that “Once A Gangster” is in no way Ekin Cheng and Jordan Chan’s return to their “Young and Dangerous” days. Sure, Ekin and Jordan are playing two triad members here, but writer/director Felix Chong’s “Once A Gangster” is more a spoof, to put it more accurately, of the iconic franchise- so if you’re looking for the two of them to do some slashing and hacking, this is not the movie for you.

But if you’re in the mood for some offbeat humour, then you would do well to check out this farcical parody of “Young and Dangerous” and- believe it or not- Felix’s own “Infernal Affairs” (he was co-writer). From the get-go, Felix lets you know that he’s in a light-hearted mood. Beginning with an extended shot over Hong Kong’s old-style bumboat docks, we hear the buzzing sound of a mosquito as it flies over the waters and lands close to the nipple of a bare-chested overweight man with man-boobs standing on one of the boats. He smacks the mosquito dead, leaving a trail of blood on his skin and goes below deck.

Inside, an initiation ceremony is taking place where a dozen young men are stripped to their underwear and holding up a bundle of leaves each. One of them however has placed his bundle over his crotch- when questioned by one of the elders, Kerosene (Alex Fong), he explains nervously that it’s to cover the hole in his paper underwear. And what does this young man do after the traditional slaughtering of the chicken? He wraps it in the bundle of leaves and cooks it- why waste a good animal?

It is in this tongue-in-cheek manner that Felix has crafted his solo directorial debut (with his frequent co-writer/co-director Alan Mak serving as producer)- though admittedly, his attempts at injecting a wry sense of humour into the traditional gangster flick has its hits and misses. “Once A Gangster” takes its lead from many other such genre pictures like Johnnie To’s “Election” and Herman Yau’s more recent “Rebellion” where a gang is thrown into disarray with the impending election of their next leader.

Although there’s still the infighting that typically results, “Once A Gangster” is different in that the two contenders are in fact reluctant and unwilling. One of them is Roast Pork (Jordan Chan), the young man from before turned celebrity chef, whose plans of retirement from the triad life with his wife (Michelle Ye) are suddenly thrown into jeopardy. The other is Sparrow (Ekin Cheng), sent to prison twenty years ago for murder, but is now reformed with a new ambition to study economics at the University of Hong Kong (he quotes Milton Friedman effortlessly).

This unusual premise should convince you of Felix’s creative strengths as a writer, and true enough, the dialogue here often sparkles with wit and humour. A simple scene where Roast Pork and his gang of three close friends are sitting around the darkened kitchen table contemplating their options is played to maximum hilarity, as they drift to unrelated topics like soccer and which place has the freshest seafood- much to the chagrin of his exasperated wife. Ditto another scene where the gang leaders settle their matters inside, of all places, a police station.

Less successful however are Felix’s attempts at moulding the Infernal Affairs story into a subplot- most of the jokes parodying the more memorable traits of the classic movie end up being nothing more than slapstick. “Once A Gangster” also suffers from weak plotting, a problem that seems common to most, if not all, parodies. After setting up the inventive premise, Felix doesn’t take it very much further- in fact, the ending almost comes off laughable until the final reveal that only barely redeems it from incredulity.

But perhaps the greatest weakness of “Once A Gangster” is its choice of director- yes, Felix himself. Without the benefit of the more experienced Andrew Lau and Alan Mak, Felix lets some scenes go on for too long and others go on too languidly for their own good. Indeed, certain scenes, especially those at the beginning between Jordan and Alex, could clearly benefit from a less deliberate pace. It’s also obvious that Felix could really use some help in putting together the film’s action sequences, which though few in number, are surprisingly dull and dreary.

Still, the highlight of “Once A Gangster” would no doubt be the onscreen reunion of Ekin and Jordan after almost a decade- and you’d be glad to know that the veteran stars do not disappoint. In particular, Jordan Chan seems to be relishing the chance to poke fun at one of his most iconic screen characters, gleefully hamming it up as a young and dangerous has-been. Ekin Cheng plays his character more straight-laced, but his air of imposed self-seriousness is also hilarious to watch.

It’s probably too much to expect Ekin Cheng and Jordan Chan to return to their “Young and Dangerous” series ten years after the last instalment concluded- which is why the very premise of “Once A Gangster” would have made it a perfect vehicle for both of them. Yet though Felix Chong’s film has its moments of brilliance, it is also saddled with unfunny scenarios, subpar story and weak direction. It is not nearly as smart or funny as it should be as a comedy, and certainly not exciting enough as an action flick- it is at best a mixed bag that doesn’t quite satisfy either way.

Movie Rating:

(Good enough for a few guffaws- but not quite the homage it should be to Ekin Cheng and Jordan Chan’s “Young and Dangerous” heydays)

Review by Gabriel Chong


. Overheard (2009)

. Lady Cop & Papa Crook (2008)

. Confession Of Pain (2006)

. Divergence (2005)

. Moonlight in Tokyo (2005)

. Heavenly Mission DVD (2006)

. Operation Undercover DVD (2006)

. Rebellion DVD (2009)

. To Live And Die In Mongkok DVD (2009)




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