Once a Thief (1991) Review

"Once a Thief" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"Once a Thief" Chinese Theatrical Poster

Director: John Woo
Writer: John Woo
Producer: Terence Chang
Cast: Chow Yun-Fat, Leslie Cheung, Cherie Chung Cho-Hung, Paul Chu Kong, Kenneth Tsang, Declan Wong, John Woo
Running Time: 108 min.

By Numskull

You know what we got here? A John Woo chick flick. Well, sort of. It’s “more accessible” (read: less violent) than the heroic bloodshed work he’s known for, and there’s a ho-hum romantic subplot (“Well, sort of” again). But Once A Thief is still enjoyable for both casual fans and die-hards, as long as you don’t just expect two hours of carnage.

The love triangle mercifully takes a back seat to the real meat and potatoes of the story: a heist and double-cross-o-rama revolving around a really ugly painting. I say, if you’re gonna swipe artwork, make it artwork that’s worth swiping. Anyone here into Robert Williams? “While Traveling Near Or Traveling Far, Keep Your Hands Inside The Car!” Heh…classic. Probably not worth a whole lot of money, though. Hmm, maybe that’s why they go for the ugly one instead…

Where was I? Oh, right, the plot. Joe, James, and Cherie have two father figures: one, a real prick of a thief; the other, a kind-hearted policeman. When the three of them decide to end their careers as robbers, they must oppose one and elude the other…or must they? Lackwits unaccustomed to movies with more complexity than some Jim Carrey shit will no doubt have trouble following all of the twists and turns the story takes, but hey, that’s their problem. This here flick is solid proof that John Woo doesn’t need to expend thousands of bullets to make an involving film.

Not that Once A Thief is utterly actionless, mind you. The violence has been toned down significantly, but so what? It works here and it’s still plenty of fun. I especially like the flaming basketball of death. The credibility factor drops when the finale arrives but, I repeat, so what?

It’s a caper film with heart, it’s an action movie with class, it’s a lesser effort from John Woo but a great one from an objective standpoint and plenty enjoyable. Watch it and see for yourself the breadth that Mr. Blood & Bullets is capable of.

Numskull’s Rating: 7/10


By James H.

Slick. Very, very slick. That’s the only way this film can be described. This film has class. It has the kind of class Bond movies have. The film has this great charm that comes from the lead actors, well mainly Chow Yun-Fat (the coolest man alive, sorry Sean). The acting is never forced in this film. It all comes naturally to the actors. Only the last few minutes (you’ll know) seem forced.

The plot concerns three friends who have grown up together and are now thieves. Not just any thieves, art thieves. The script presents some interesting situations for the three friends and the love triangle that exists between them. The script is also very clever. There are some really good twists and turns here and there. The script also plays out as an adventure/caper flick. It’s very light-hearted compared to other works by Woo (like Bullet in the Head). The film mixes action and comedy very well.

The action is very well done. The violence isn’t as graphic as, say, The Killer, but it still wouldn’t be a PG rating. The film’s finale is just crazy. It’s just jam-packed with excitement. You end up yelling out when a bad guy gets it (I did at least). Once a Thief is one of Woo’s more underrated films. It hasn’t received the attention it deserves, but if you can get a hold of it, don’t hesitate to rent it, or buy it.

James H’s Rating: 8.5/10

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