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
RunTime: 1 hr 35 mins
Released By: Scorpio East Pictures and Golden Village
Official Website: http://www.mediaasia.com/onceagangster/
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.
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.
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.
(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