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Original Title:
Wong gok hak yau

Hong Kong 2004

Crime, Thriller, Drama

Derek Yee

Daniel Wu
Cecilia Cheung
Alex Fong
Lam Suet
Anson Leung
Chin Kar Lok
Sam Lee

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One Nite in Mongkok

Story: The death of a gang member by the hand of a member of a rivaling gang raises tension in the streets of Mongkok. Officer Milo (Alex Fong) wants to defuse the situation, before a gang war breaks loose. However, Tim, the boss of one of the gangs, wants to get rid of Carl, the boss of the rival gang, by hiring a hitman. Liu (Lam Suet) is the mediator, who hires unexperienced killer Lai Fu (Daniel Wu) for the job. Officer Milo gets his hands on Liu and wants him to deliver some information, so Liu is very busy now to get the job done by Lai Fu and at the same time somehow give the police a culprit, even if it has to be Lai Fu. Luckily, Lai Fu is one of the guys with brains in this business, so that he can escape the police over and over again, despite of his lacking experience in the field.
In the streets of Mongkok Lai Fu runs into the prostitute Dan Dan (Cecilia Cheung), for whom he drives away an intrusive client. The two find out that they are from the same neighborhood and Dan Dan offers to serve as a tour guide for money. With her help Lai Fu doesn't only want to localize his target, but most of all wants to find his girlfriend Sue, who came to Mongkok a while back.
While Lai Fu, because of a lot of luck and coincidences can slip through Officer Milo's and his crew's tight net again and again, even though they already turned the whole Mongkok area upside down, Dan Dan finds out about Lai Fu being an assassin. Since he gives her the feeling to be a human being again, she tries to convince him, that it's yet not to late to turn away from his chosen path.
The night in Mongkok becomes a dangerous chasing game, at which end only one last confrontation can decide about the fate of the involved parties...

Review: Derek Yee once again proves that he didn't get his good name in the biz for nothing and after his impressive "Lost in Time" he delivers a rough and well done crime drama. In times of meaningless fluffy popstar-flicks, which we are bombarded with out of Hong Kong nowadays, we gladly take every kind of film that is more or less like let's say "Infernal Affairs". Even if it might be just a bold clone. Luckily, Yee's work is nothing like that, but instead can capture the audience with its own dark-dramatic style. Even if you can't deny that there are definetely some similarities to be found in respect to the already mentioned trilogy or some works of Johnnie To.

Mongkok, the area with the most population found on this planet, is the stage of a night that throws us into the life of different individuals. In this street jungle a volcano is seething that is about to erupt any moment. The paths our protagonists wander on seem to be predestined and fate over and over leads them to one another and seperates them again. The gritty-nihilistic world Yee created seems to have no place for an obvious good or bad side. Everyone acts out of his or her own motives and as it is typical for Chinese philosophy, nearly everyone gets what he deserves in the end. Those who can't get along with the fact that destiny has an important role in this philosophy, will have some problems with certain plot holes or some rather unlikely coincidences. But we'll get more into details later on.

"One Nite in Mongkok" is in no way about the story of Lai Fu and Dan Dan, but instead the fate of several persons is linked together in one certain night that is about to change their life as it is. Regarding the narration this evokes some problems. In the beginning we are told the story about Officer Milo and his crew. The gangster plot is without a doubt the center of events, however, half an hour later, we are more into the life of the assassin Lai Fu and the prostitute Dan Dan. Their paths always cross those of the police men, but the shifting of the focus is just for too long so that we feel a little bit distant towards the other protagonists, when the focus changes again. In other words, either we are accompanying Lai Fu and Dan Dan or we stick to Milo and his crew for too long. This deprives the movie of its wholeness. Sure, in the foreground of events is the "night in Mongkok" and not the individual protagonists themselves, yet maybe one would have done better to have the narrational shifting taken place more frequently. Another possibility could have been to tell both storys one after another and at the end link them together. Derek Yee's choice wasn't the most optimal. Nonetheless, at least this is the only big flaw in the movie.

However, there are similar problems with the pacing. While there are some slow scenes there are also some more action orientated moments. Moreover, there are times when there are masses of dialogues that are bringing the individual person's motives to light a bit more and finally there are the more quite, yet incredibly tense and thrilling scenes. A good example is the scene in which the rookie Ben on a raid shoots an at first glance innocent guy and Milo tries to let this incident go through the "right channels", the way that his team can keep their jobs.
The constant change in the pacing is sometimes a bit irritating, yet also awakens the feeling that we are part of a documentary in which the life of several persons is explored with care.

The unexperienced, shy and uneducated, but nevertheless intelligent Lai Fu is played by Daniel Wu who once again proves that he is an actor to reckon with. The innocence of his character and his contrasting target-orientated thinking are handled by him with great skills. Cecilia Cheung impersonates the sometimes perfunctory, but in the core complex Dan Dan. Unfortunately, she hasn't much opportunities to show something of this complexity. Cheung definitely is better than this, but nonetheless there are some few scenes in which she can shine.
Another portrayel worth mentioning is the one of Alex Fong as police man Milo. Even though his quite and calm behaviour and the "dark" experience of his past he has to overcome are nothing new in the genre, he has a great intensity on screen. The supporting cast also does their share and overall there is no one whose acting is spoiling the overall picture. Well, maybe there are the naive-arrogant rookie Ben, played by Anson Leung or Lam Suet, who once again has to impersonate a living cliche he just had to do quite too often, who fall into this category, but it's not that disruptive.

A short note about the voices of Cecilia Cheung and Daniel Wu. At least Cheung is without a doubt dubbed even in the original version of the movie (her charming abrasive voice can't be mistaken with any other one). The reason for this is most likely that the two are playing Mainland-Chinese and therefore are speaking Mandarin. Cheung's Mandarin, however, has a very noticable Cantonese accent, which maybe didn't work out in the eyes of the director. Anyway, it's very confusing after which criteria there is still done dubbing in China. Why else would you watch movies with the original dubbing and go through the trouble of reading subtitles if not for hearing the original actors' voices?! Maybe it's just me, but the dubbing becomes one of the sore points.

Derek Yee's great direction makes the movie look top-notch. We get to see some wonderful shots of Mongkok, of which those at night are especially beautiful. The lighting is also very well done and reminds us of "PTU". Actually, in terms of cinematography "One Nite in Mongkok" can best be described as a mixture of "PTU" and "Infernal Affairs". So Yee apparently did his homework, and at least knows where and how to lend something from concerning the style of a movie.
Although there are some very gloomy scenes the atmosphere is never unbearably depressing. At least not until the ending... This is primarily because of Lai Fu and Dan Dan. The chemistry between them is just great. Luckily, one even avoids to sell us your typical out-of-place love story. The several shopping scenes of the two make this harsh world a bit more cheerful, though, and a friendly relationship is slowly establishing.
Towards the end the rough side of the movie gains the upper hand. It gets more brutal and bloody than expected. We didn't hope for a Happy End to begin with, since the film is working towards a finale all along, which isn't supposed to be survived by everyone. Yet, it's this misanthropic atmosphere of the big city jungle at night that makes the movie so worthwhile watching.

The script doesn't surprise us with anything new. At the beginning there are countless names and faces thrown at us, yet with time this all turns out to be a relatively familiar plot. It's the presentation and exploration of the different characters that make this film so special. However, this makes it the more sad that "One Nite in Mongkok" can't compete with absolute Top-Thrillers, because of some small blemishes. Yee's work definitely had the potential for it.
Furthermore, you should always keep in mind, that the movie is about fate. It's almost ridiculous how many times the opposed parties run into each other or miss each other by inches in densely populated Mongkok. For some viewers it will feel just too contrived. Nonetheless, "One Nite in Mongkok" will stay in your head for a while, because of its great atmosphere, a high tension and well drawn characters. There isn't any better Thriller out of Hong Kong at the moment, so watch it!

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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