One Nite in Mongkok

Reviewed by Lee Alon

You can't keep a good city down, and with Derek Yee's massively straight-faced nocturnal crime flick, this particular notion makes itself once more apparent with regards to trusty old Hong Kong.

Seven Elevens bathed in fluorescents, sleazy cheapo hotels, dark alleys, teeming shopping districts and rambunctious sidewalk snack fests. Sure, all regulars in Johnnie To and Wong Kar Wai movies, but its been sometime since weve seen them in a project so effortlessly evocative of all the unique atmosphere HK has to offer, easily bringing back images of the fragrant harbor's unbeatable charm. Plus, it comes in to salvage the day exactly when we thought the cops-and-robbers genre took an unsolicited sojourn somewhere up in the mountains. What a refreshing reprieve!

ONIMK sees two of HK's most promising (and by now established) thespians give it their best. Daniel Wu enters the fray as Lai Fu, an almost mechanically introspective no-name assassin hired by Mongkok triad operative Liu Ge (embodied by reliable Lam Suet) as expeditor of certain underworld disagreements requiring resolution.
Armed with a gun, heaps of money and stoic dispositions, Lai Fu begins prowling the vibrant borough's streets, in search of his assigned target.
However, things change once he meets fellow mainlander Dan Dan, a decent person eking a meager existence by prostituting herself to the pleasure of dubious clients. Here, Cecilia Cheung simply shines as the female lead, apparently well recovered from her back injury of two years ago, and definitely looking her sexiest since 1999's memorable Fly Me to Polaris.
Lai Fu and Dan Dan hit it off following a customer-related incident in which the former literally saves her ass, and proceed to trawl around the place, with Lai Fu obviously not in his element, maybe due to Dan Dan's tagging along and repeatedly benefiting from the young man's newly-acquired wad of crisp bills. Realizing his former sweetheart got herself mangled in a gangland-related car wreck (driven by Made in Hong Kong's Sam Lee) doesn't precisely help his focus, either.
Matters take a different course when the story shifts to indulge in goings on at a CID unit led by a veteran detective (done by Alex Fong). His mixed team, comprising experienced officers as well as total novices, eventually becomes embroiled in Lai Fu's fatal odyssey as they attempt to keep him from carrying out his maligned mission. En route we take detours into several semi-related nighttime antics, with the CID crew slowly getting closer to ending Lai Fu and Dan Dan's haphazard escape. Not only do both plot lines enjoy excellent scripting, they moreover showcase the film's enthralling duality, as we track vagabonds and cops, each faction with its own internal turmoil and background. Overall, ONIMK does very well in depicting protagonists, and when the two threads finally converge, the movie delivers with considerable impact.
Although everyone in the main cast contributes their fair share, kudos go mostly to Daniel and Cecilia. Each has a concrete presence here, lending characters believable, coherent personalities and instant viewer identification.  Wu's practically indestructible, inscrutable and at the same time, timid. Cheung manages a versatile performance of laudable depth, concurrently lascivious, honest and wittily funny. And Alex Fong's portrayal of the jaded yet humane police lifer challenges preconceptions, putting a twist on this rather pigeon-holed role.
But above all else, One Nite in Mongkok's an atmospheric ode to both genre and locale. Its camera work exposes every environmental component with care, granting equal import to the seedy, banal, titillating and tacky. Via such ace cinematography and a moody soundtrack that sticks in the mind, this film indeed makes one feel as if they are going through the night themselves, the hours passing while Hong Kong celebrates an oddly disjointed Christmas Eve, day turning into darkness.
Add masterful acting, and we have before us a tour de force combining the gritty, hard hitting elegance of good crime movies with the stylish intelligence of proper indie. Unarguably one of the best releases of 2004, and a title sure to engage your DVD player for more than one night.

Rating: 9/10

Directed by Derek Yee
Starring Cecilia Cheung, Daniel Wu, Alex Fong, Lam Suet, Anson Leung
2004, Putonghua/Cantonese, 110 minutes

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