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Second Time Around
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Ekin Cheng and Cecilia Cheung try a Second Time Around
Year: 2002  
Director: Jeff Lau Chun-Wai  
Producer: Johnnie To Kei-Fung  
Cast: Ekin Cheng Yee-Kin, Cecilia Cheung Pak-Chi, Jonathan Ke Quan (Kwan Gai-Wai), Wood Lai-Ming, Oliver Tan, John Wang, Alexander Fung, Johnny Koo, Lynne Langdon, Glen Pon, David Quan
The Skinny: The long-awaited teaming of Chan Ho-Nam and Short Round! Jeff Lau's time-travel romantic fantasy has massive plot holes and sometimes unnecessary angst and comedy. However, it proves involving thanks to an intriguing plot and decent star turns from Ekin Cheng and Cecilia Cheung.
by Kozo:
     Shelved for nearly six months, the Jeff Lau-directed romantic fantasy Second Time Around finally found a release this past January. Starring Ekin Cheng and Cecilia Cheung, it attempts to tell a Back to the Future-type story while giving us the usual doses of Hong Kong comedy, action and existential angst.
     Cheng is Ren, a lowly gambler, who dreams of hitting the big time as a Vegas high-roller. He enlists the help of buddy Sing (Jonathan Ke Quan of The Goonies and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) to steal $1 million from the casino they work at so they can parlay it into a fortune at Caesar's Palace. Sing complies, but they hit a snag when Ren loses it all to Vegas' number one dealer, who's appropriately called Number One.
     They hightail it back to Los Angeles with a winning gambler named Anna, who owes her winnings to Sing's advice. She proffers a gift to Ren, two magical stones (or plot devices) which are said to grant the ability to travel to parallel times and change the future - or something like that. It all sounds like hooey, but when the trio get into a car accident, Ren suddenly has a use for the stones. He makes it out alive, but Sing and Anna don't, and it looks like Sing was actually murdered.
     Ren tries to get out of Dodge before he's fingered for stealing the million dollars, but he accidentally activates the stones and travels three days into the past. He also accidentally brings local police detective Tina Chan (Cecilia Cheung) along. They start out as antagonists, but soon they have to work together to prevent Sing's murder and find their way back home.
     What makes Jeff Lau's fantasy enjoyable is the trippy time travel plotline that allow us to connect-the-dots as we go. Little hints and plot points are dropped early on to be picked up later, and the elliptical way everything meets can be quite involving. Plot holes do exist, but most time travel movies have these problems. At the very least, the twisty narrative is a good diversion.
     This sort of audience participation helps compensate for the usual doses of bizarre comedy, questionable sexual politics, strange existential metaphor, and overdone romantic subplots that you'd expect from writer/director Jeff Lau. Despite being stuck with a time travel story, the film detours into issues of fate, divine luck, and even human sexuality. Ren's diatribe on how humans should mate like animals makes for amusing listening, but it's also distracting and a little out-of-place.
     The actors help, however. Ekin Cheng is clearly attempting to pick different roles, and this one is a departure for him. He's not entirely convincing when playing two separate versions of himself, but he manages to carry the film effectively. Cecilia Cheung as a police detective is a bit far-fetched, especially considering her incredibly terrible handle of the English language. Still, she gains steam as the film progresses and manages to effectively portray a wide emotional range. Her performance here isn't earth shattering, but it reminds us why we liked her in the first place.
      Then there's Short Round (or Data, if you're a Goonies fan). I don't know how Jonathan Ke Quan got into his movie because he's not a terribly good actor. However, the movie's worth a look just to see Short Round all grown up.
     This review hasn't been really objective, but it's hard to bring out the belt on a movie like this. It attempts an ambitious narrative, which is something not usually seen in Hong Kong films. Sure, it's mixed in with the typical HK hijinks, but that's to be expected considering Jeff Lau directed this thing. His movies have always been uneven mixed bags (i.e. Hero, Timeless Romance, or Mahjong Dragon) but he does attempt something with his movies. However, that something is usually pretty hard to figure out.
(Kozo 2002)
Notes: • Warning! The Mei-Ah DVD, while technically gorgeous, has one rather large problem. The subtitles occasionally omit the beginnings of some sentences. This means that a full sentence will only have its latter half translated, which can prove frustrating to some. Cantonese speakers will have no problem, however.

9th Annual Hong Kong Film Critics Society Awards
Recommended Film
Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Mei Ah Laser
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles

image courtesy of Mei Ah Laser Disc Co., Ltd. Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen