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One Nite in Mongkok
   |     review    |     awards     |     availability     |   
AKA: Crossroads
Chinese: 旺角黑夜  
Year: 2004
Director: Derek Yee Tung-Sing
Producer: Henry Fong Ping
Writer: Derek Yee Tung-Sing
Action: Chin Kar-Lok
Cast: Daniel Wu, Cecilia Cheung Pak-Chi, Alex Fong Chung-Sun, Chin Kar-Lok, Ken Wong Hap-Hei, Anson Leung Chun-Yat, Lam Chi-Kok, Ng Shui-Ting, Cynthia Ho Mo-Si, Sam Lee Chan-Sam, Lau Shek-Yin, Lam Suet, Henry Fong Ping, Elena Kong Mei-Yi, Bau Hei-Jing, Eddie Peng Wai-On, Austin Wai Tin-Chi, Monica Chan Fat-Yung, Cha Yuen-Yee, Tommy Yuen Man-On, Candy Hau Woon-Ling
The Skinny: Director Derek Yee's latest is a commercial-art film that's great on character and drama, but also great on just thrills. While not a completely perfect film, this one-night thrill ride possesses more than what's required to make it a recommended, even terrific film. Probably the most cinematically gripping, all-around enjoyable film of 2004 thus far.
 
  Review
by Kozo:

Finally, a good—possibly even great—2004 Hong Kong movie. Derek Yee's One Nite in Mongkok gives the Lost in Time director a two-for-two record in the 21st Century, and bragging rights to the title of Hong Kong's best storyteller. One Nite in Mongkok fits a genre description rather neatly: it's a crime thriller about a group of cops attempting to stop a planned gangland hit over the course of a 36-hour period in claustrophobic Mongkok. But the film does a lot more than just tell a story—in fact, it seems to eschew story in favor of a widening look at character and random genre situation. The result is a combo product: a tense thriller that possesses both a wide-ranging genre tale and a compelling, laser-precise focus on character and theme. There are some missteps along the way, but One Nite in Mongkok jumps right to the top of Hong Kong's best films for 2004.

Alex Fong Chung-Sun is Officer Milo, a dedicated CID officer who gets involved in a deepening case on Christmas Eve. Rival crimelords Tim and Carl get into an argument over the death of Tim's son, who was offed in a car accident by Carl's lackey Franky (Sam Lee in a cameo). Tim's men off Franky, but they're unable to get Carl, who scurries into the crowds and is promptly lost. Enter Liu (an oily Lam Suet), who brokers deals with mainland hitmen. The assigned shooter: Lai Fu (Daniel Wu), a bespectacled neophyte killer who arrives in Hong Kong to perform the hit on Carl—as well as chase a few personal demons. Meanwhile, Officer Milo and his crew are on the case every step of the way, and after surmising that Liu is the handler, they try to beat the bushes for Lai Fu. But thanks to luck, circumstance, and the fact that he's hiding in the dense urban jungle of Mongkok, getting to him isn't going to be easy.

Lai Fu has his own issues, some of them unexpected ones. He befriends Mainland prostitute Dan Dan (a glamorous Cecilia Cheung), who hails from a neighboring village back in China. She becomes his personal Mongkok tour guide when he saves her from a violent john, but she's unaware that he's planning on killing someone. What she does know, however, is that Lai Fu is carrying a boatload of cash, and is willing to spend it freely. He's also pretty damn handsome (this is Daniel Wu we're talking about), so Dan Dan has no problem spending extra time with him. The two take to the streets to escape her violent customer, but the cops are suddenly after Lai Fu, too. As the crowds teem and the night grows older, the two weave in and out of Mongkok's streets and alleys, finding rest and maybe even romance in each other's company. Meanwhile, Officer Milo and his crew tighten their resolve to find Lai Fu, unless something terrible happens first.

Which it does, though only through the most believable of coincidental circumstances. Derek Yee's screenplay sets up a "hitman and hooker go on the run" storyline that seems like it'll be the main story, except it's not. The path taken by Lai Fu and Dan Dan is just a part of the evening and not the means or the end of the film. One Nite in Mongkok is about exactly what the title suggests, a night in Hong Kong's most densely populated city blocks, where myriad people and circumstance crop up every two or three feet. Yee spreads his focus to all characters and situations. Besides Lai Fu and Dan Dan's flight, Yee is equally intent on showing the procedural politics of Milo's CID team, and the human attitudes and anxieties that crop up at every turn. The cops have to work on Christmas Eve, which pisses them off. The team has a new rookie, Ben (Anson Leung), whose itchy trigger finger is both his strength and ultimate weakness. Milo has his own personal issues, as do Dan Dan, Lai Fu, and even Liu. Each and every character and situation is given unbiased attention, and stuff just seems to happen. Events occur, characters act in individual, believable ways, and the night and its seemingly random circumstances moves towards a compelling and bleak end.

The screenplay of One Nite in Mongkok is obvious, but the way it's presented makes it seem like it's not really there. Derek Yee adds minutiae for every character and inch the film covers, and it's all most definitely planned. Details get bandied about, from common Mandarin-Cantonese misunderstandings, to the individual personalities of even the most minor people in Officer Milo's squad. But the details are handled subtly, and not overtly. Dan Dan may look like a hooker with a heart of gold, but her eyes show that she's a little over-concerned with the bills Lai Fu carries. Lai Fu is ruthlessly violent, but seemingly righteous when it comes to those he cares for. Ben is a rookie greenhorn, and a rather typified character, but juxtaposed with his older, more grizzled partners (including Chin Kar-Lok and Ken Wong), his wide-eyed innocence seems to carry its own life. Derek Yee uses handheld camerawork, intimate spaces, and quick-cutting rhythm to place us within the film, and the result is that it feels alive and immediate. There are a number of cinema shortcuts present, but the overwhelming feeling that One Nite in Mongkok carries is one of spontaneity. This is, quite simply, exciting, vibrant filmmaking.

As mentioned earlier, the film does take a few shortcuts, and the genre situations and characters are part of them. Nothing that occurs in the film really sets off the originality meter, but really, that's just fine. If good film is about how a story and emotions are conveyed, then One Nite in Mongkok easily qualifies as good film. It's stylish without being over-directed, intimate without being cloying, and powerful without being bombastic. The situations presented have been seen before, but the energy and dark-edged humanity in every scene seem both true and sometimes frightening in their difficult honesty. If One Nite in Mongkok has a major audience deterrent, it would have to be that it's not the happiest film around. Justice is in the eye of the beholder, life holds no fairness, and there is good and bad in everyone. Evil is just a word, and people do what they have to do simply to hold onto what's dear to them. The construction and thematic territory of One Nite in Mongkok almost seem to indicate a slice-of-life film, but the mounting tension, pulse-pounding Peter Kam soundtrack, and the final connection of events and characters is pure cinema. But hey, it's pretty damn good cinema.

Performance-wise, the cast does generally well, and manages to smooth over most of the rough spots. Sadly, some of the rough spots are pretty noticeable. Daniel Wu, while turning in a pitch-perfect emotional performance, does not sound like a Mainland Chinese, and Cecilia Cheung is too glamorous to be completely believable as a Mainland hooker. She hits the right emotional notes, but the post-production Mandarin dubbing is distracting. It certainly sounds like her, which indicates that she probably did her own dubbing in post to attempt a better Mandarin accent, but she sounds like someone trying to speak Mandarin, and not someone who really speaks it. Attention to accent may seem like nitpicking, but in a film with such authentic-feeling situations, even lousy accents can hurt matters. However, Lam Suet and Chin Kar-Lok are excellent, and even Anson Leung is effective as the rookie cop. If anyone stands out, though, it's Alex Fong, whose Officer Milo is low-key but emotionally felt. It's a great role for the actor, who should probably be remembered when year-end awards roll around.

One Nite in Mongkok does end on somewhat of a forced thematic note. When it's all over, there seems to be an effort to impart defining truth, as if the two hours leading up to the end credits could be summed up in two sentences of extraordinary depth. It would be disappointing if Derek Yee really wrote and directed this film with the idea that he was trying to say something specific, because he really didn't have to. The stuff that One Nite in Mongkok is about is wide-ranging and fascinating, and is plainly dispensed from minute one all the way up to minute one hundred-and-twenty. The characters and situations, while obviously written, still create their own life, and the actors inhabit them with believable emotion. The stylish direction, attention to genre and character, and uncompromising narrative make this simply terrific, compelling stuff. In the pantheon of great Hong Kong Cinema, One Nite in Mongkok may not break the highest echelon, but as of this summer, it can have 2004's top spot. (Kozo 2004)

 
Awards: 24th Hong Kong Film Awards
• Winner - Best Director (Derek Yee Tung-Sing)
• Winner - Best Screenplay (Derek Yee Tung-Sing)
• Nomination - Best Picture
• Nomination - Best Actor (Daniel Wu)
• Nomination - Best Actor (Alex Fong Chung-Sun)
• Nomination - Best Actress (Cecilia Cheung Pak-Chi)
• Nomination - Best Cinematography (Geung Kwok-Man)
• Nomination - Best Editing (Cheung Ka-Fai)
• Nomination - Best Art Direction (Wong Yui-Man)
• Nomination - Best Action Design (Chin Kar-Lok)
• Nomination - Best Original Film Score (Peter Kam Pui-Tak)
• Nomination - Best Sound Effects (Lip Kei-Wing, Chan Chun-Bong)
41st Golden Horse Awards
• Nomination - Best Picture
• Nomination - Best Director (Derek Yee Tung-Sing)
• Nomination - Best Cinematography (Keung Kwok-Man)
• Nomination - Best Action (Chin Kar-Lok)
11th Hong Kong Film Critics Society Awards
• Recommended Film
• Winner - Best Director (Derek Yee Tung-Sing)
Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Universe Entertainment
2-Disc Set
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc

image courtesy of Universe Entertainment

   
   
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