Site Features
- Asian Film Awards
- Site Recommendations

- Reader Poll Results

- The Sponsor Page
- The FAQ Page
support this site by shopping at
Click to visit
Asian Blu-ray discs at
Once a Thief
|     review    |     theme song     |     awards     |     availability     |
"Nicholas Tse taught me how to drive."

Cherie Chung, Leslie Cheung and Chow Yun-Fat take in the sights.
Chinese: 纵横四海
Year: 1991
Director: John Woo
Action: Philip Kwok Chun-Fung
Cast: Chow Yun-Fat, Leslie Cheung Kwok-Wing, Cherie Chung Chor-Hung, Paul Chu Kong, Kenneth Tsang Kong, Wu Feng, John Tang Yat-Kwan,Leila Tong Ling
The Skinny: Popular John Woo-directed comedy has style and charisma to spare thanks to its peerless trio of stars: Chow Yun-Fat, Cherie Chung and Leslie Cheung. The film itself is a mixed bag of bizarre comedy, kid-friendly action and uneven plot shifts. A good time can be had, but is the movie really that good?
by Kozo:

For die-hard fans of The Killer and Hard Boiled, this action-comedy can be baffling. He eschews his trademark blood-soaked brotherhood for sunny locations, oddball comedy and (gasp!) a love triangle.

Chow Yun-Fat, Cherie Chung and Leslie Cheung play three orphans who grew up together under the auspices of adopted father Kenneth Tsang Kong. Tsang also taught them how to be theives, and despite falling in with kindly cop Paul Chu Kong, the three grew up to be high-tech, high-stakes art thieves who terrorize the French Riveria and, presumably, museum curators everywhere. Chow eventually wants to leave the life, but their final score goes awry when a double-cross occurs. Chow appears to perish in a car accident, and Cherie is heartbroken at losing her lover.

Still, Leslie and Cherie must go on without Chow, and eventually begin their own romantic liason. Big surprise: Chow survived, though he's now confined to wheelchair. Despite that setback, and the newly-complicated romantic tension, the trio go about planning a new heist, though things aren't what they appear to be.

Since this is a John Woo film, there is some gunplay, but it's remarkably bloodless and kid-friendly. There are some nice acrobatics and slow-motion, but the usual shots of bullets ripping through bodies are gone. Instead, we get shots of Leslie Cheung's hair flowing in slow-motion, or Chow Yun-Fat making fart jokes. Yep, there's comedy aplenty in this John Woo flick, and a lot of it simply makes no sense at all. During a heist, Chow and Leslie do a limbo underneath a laser security beam. Why? No reason at all. Stephen Chow would be proud.

With the abundance of strange comedy, this film can be as alienating as they come. However, Woo makes sure to provide his usual melodrama and well-choreographed set pieces (the heist scenes are actually not bad), and his suggestive homoeroticism doesn't get ignored, either. Woo throws in something for everyone, but the result is uneven and filled with ill-fitting variety. It's like your typical Lunar New Year comedy. Or a salad.

Given all that, the film can only be described with one phrase: mixed bag. Once a Thief is a movie of many different parts, and none of them really belong in the same film. The gorgeous foreign locations and attractive cinematography recall Alfred Hitchock/Cary Grant collaborations. The three stars of Once a Thief are right at home in that setting (with Cherie Chung winning the glamour award), but sophomoric humor and just plain weirdness recalls Wong Jing/Stephen Chow mo lei tau. There is a great deal of fun to be had here, and the utter bizarreness can be fascinating, but is this really a good film? For comparison's sake, consider this: did Bruce Willis' Hudson Hawk give you the uncontrollable giggles? If so, then Once a Thief will prove worthy of your time. (Kozo 1993/2002)


The 11th Annual Hong Kong Film Awards
Nomination - Best Picture
Nomination - Best Director (John Woo)
Nomination - Best Actor (Chow Yun-Fat)
Nomination - Best Editing (David Wu Dai-Wai)

DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Kam & Ronson Enterprises Co.,
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc

Find this at

image courtesy of Mega Star Video Distribution, Ltd. Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen