A hired killer is somewhere on the loose amidst the congested streets of Hong Kong. The police have little information to go on, one bad picture, a guarded informant, and, to make matters worse, it is Christmas Eve. The leaders of the task force tracking the killer, detectives Milo (Alex Fong) and Brandon (Chin Kar Lok), scour every back alley in a desperate hunt to stop a slaying that will shake up the underworld.
It began when a fight broke out between two gangland leaders sons. The result of the fight was the accidental death of a son, and, accident or not, the mourning mob boss is out for blood and has put a hit on his rival. Enter hired killer Lai Fu (Daniel Wu- Purple Storm, Naked Weapon), an imported mainland bumpkin seizing one of lifes few opportunities for a simple country boy to make some much needed money. He is befriended by a hooker, Dan Dan (Cecilia Cheung- Tokyo Raiders, Legend of Zu), who he saves from a rough lowlife customer and thus becomes his escort through the city streets. The two sides spend a frantic day or two working parallel to one another, facing many stumbles along the way, and, eventually, they will meet in a tragic outcome.
Director Derek Yee (Full Throttle) has crafted a likable crime drama. The camerawork is largely handheld and gives a greater sense of realism as it digs through the gritty criminal dens and Mongkok's overcrowded markets. The style is very reminiscent of other HK crime films, like Infernal Affairs, that obsess over both sides of the underworld. You could also make comparisons to Michael Mann's Heat, though One Night in Mongkok (2004) lacks the deeper examination of the cops and robbers personal lives that made Heat stand out. For the two sides, it is a bleak struggle. The cops are largely lacking resources and have to browbeat and manhandle in order to make any strides forward. For Lai Fu and Dan Dan, while they money helps in the short term, they must carry the weight of their actions for a lifetime.
One Night in Mongkok is the kind of film that is completely solid, a workable but not exactly revolutionary crime pic, with one big fractured flaw that goes against the rest of it's assured parts. I genuinely liked everything about the film- the story was interesting, the performances were (mostly) quite good, the setting was perfect, the direction was gritty- but they had to throw in a hooker with a heart of gold. And, as if that cliche wasn't enough, it had to be a chipper hooker with a heart of gold in the often cute and goofy HK female lead vein. So, here you get cliche on top of cliche. While you can typecast any number of HK actress' in this, often grating, role and put them in different genres from straight comedy, to romance, to light action films, amongst the streetwise setting of One Night in Mongkok it feels not only out of place but down right pandering to some commercial appeal.
To be completely fair, Dan Dan and Lai Fu's relationship could have been more contrived- they could have injected some romantic element into it. Luckily that is not the case. Their relationship is believable. At first she is thankful for his help but still sees him as another mark, another means of money. When she learns that he is a killer, she wants as far away from hm as possible, which he cannot allow. Their relationship builds because she recognizes their similarity, that they both have come to the big city to do things they are ashamed to do.
Daniel Wu does a convincing job. He invests Lai Fu with a small town innocence as well as a sort of empty/vague quality and temper that makes you believe he is capable to perform the violence he has been assigned. Likewise, actors playing the police have an ease that makes you feel for their comradery and the helplessness in the face of a tight-lipped underworld. There isn't any glamor to be had in either avenue of life, crime-stopping and crime-committing, and the prospects are equally dim.
I had to do some searching in other reviews/forums to confirm another little misstep. I don't speak a lick of Cantonese or Mandarin, though I'm sure by now I've heard enough to have a good ear for it. You don't always have to speak a language in order to recognize someone having problems with it. I thought that, at times, Daniel Wu and Cecilia Cheung might be having problems with their Mandarin, and I ran across some other complaints about this (including that Cecilia had to re-dub a lot of her lines). Of course, for me, the non-Mandarin speaker, there was only the vaguest feeling they weren't convincing mainlanders, so it wasn't a big problem
The DVD: Universe. A Hong Kong import, the disc has no region coding.
Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. The print appears very clean... well, as clean as intended. What I mean by that is, the film has an intentionally gritty look. The urban mood is reflected by the films cool blue tones and excessive grain. Contrast is rich, with only a few negligible scenes that aren't as balanced. Colors are appropriately murky in the interior seedy dens, and then spring into vibrancy amidst the neon streets. Sharpness and general details are well-rendered; no noticeable technical glitches.
Sound: Cantonese and Mandarin 5.1 Surround or DTS tracks with optional Chinese (traditional and simplified) and English subtitles. While there are some instances of the actors re-dubbing lines, the overall presentation of the dialogue is realistically rendered. The sound fx and music are well done. The music is straightforward while the atmospherics get the most use of the surround speakers. The subtitles have some minor grammar stumbles, but nothing that heavily deters from the film.
Extras: The extras are all contained on a second disc. Unfortunately they are not English-friendly, therefore the lesser rating (unless you speak Cantonese/Mandarin). The main disc, the film, features director commentary.--- Disc Two features the bulk of the extras material.— Star Bios— Photo Gallery— "Making of" Featurette (12:52 )— Additional Featurettes on Principal Photography (1:37), Promo Event ( 7:13 ), Gala Premiere (6 :37 ).— Deleted Scene sequence (27:00) with optional Director's Commentary — Theatrical trailer, plus teaser and trailers for other universe titles.
Conclusion: If you consider yourself a fan of new wave crime dramas, especially those that HK seems to be hooked on, this is a very entertaining film. I won't say it rises to classic status, but it has several admirable aspects. This DVD presentation, despite a bonus disc that is useless to English-only speakers, is quite good and worth a look.