For the benefit of those likely to stop reading at the news that what we have here is yet another tale of that most beloved and enduring of cinematic stereotypes, namely the eccentric / melancholy / honourable / love-struck / well-dressed hitman (is there any other kind?), the bottom line is that “One Last Dance” is actually far better, and more importantly, far less derivative than expected from a film with such a desperately tired premise. Written and directed by the Brazilian born Max Makowski, the film was actually originally released back in 2005, and despite boasting a big name cast including Francis Ng, Ti Lung and Harvey Keitel, is only now finally receiving a proper DVD release via Tartan.
The plot is familiar stuff, echoing countless other films: T (played by top Hong Kong talent Francis Ng, recently in Johnny To’s “Exiled”) is an awkwardly monikered assassin whose name results in plenty of gags about tea and who is tasked with hunting down and killing the kidnappers of a wealthy businessman’s son. His task is made more difficult after it transpires that his flamboyant and annoying best friend Ko (Joseph Quek) may be involved, whose sister Mae (actress Vivian Hsu, also in the Chinese blockbuster “The Knot”) he finds himself rather inconveniently falling in love with. Added to the complications are a gang of Italian Mafioso (including Keitel in a brief though amusing cameo role), and T’s other friend who just happens to be the captain of police (the legendary Ti Lung, star of countless Shaw Brothers classics and John Woo’s iconic “A Better Tomorrow”). Inevitably, Ko gets into trouble, pushing T to make a tough moral decision as his tightly controlled world gradually falls apart in the usual manner.
Thankfully, the plot is actually far more complicated than the above synopsis might suggest, mainly due to Makowski’s ambitious attempt at utilising a fractured narrative structure. Although the film’s outcome is never really in doubt, he scores points for at least making the journey an engrossing one, and the script does have a few surprises up its sleeve including a well handled twist in the last act. More importantly, the film also features a respectable amount of emotional depth, delving far more into its characters than is usual with the genre, especially in the case of protagonist T – thanks in no small part to a great performance from Ng, who brings to life what could have been a dull and stoic figure. This helps to keep the viewer entertained and nicely distracts from the nagging suspicion that everything has been seen before.
As it turns out, the main problem with the film is not a lack of originality, but the uncertain tone, which veers wildly from heavy handed gloom and obscure soliloquies about songs and colours, to slapstick humour, most of which revolves around the character of Ko. This wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, at least if he wasn’t such a detestable idiot with ‘kill me’ stamped on his forehead, underlined and in bold type, whose presence grates from his first appearance, and it’s hard to know what Makowski was aiming for with his inclusion. Certainly, it seems unlikely that T would have such a foolish and unreliable friend, and as such his only discernable real purpose is to serve as a plot device and catalyst for trouble.
Makowski’s direction is predictably stylish, with plenty of visual trickery thrown in at every opportunity in a way which recalls “Oldboy” and a plethora of other recent cult Asian films. Mercifully, he just about prevents things from becoming an exercise in style over substance, and although a few of his efforts fall flat, notably some painful attempts at symbolism involving glowing hearts and the likes, the film benefits from an air of kinetic, controlled variety. The look aimed for seems to be modern noir, and this works quite well, with the city being an atmospheric, shadowy place that lends the proceedings a vaguely sinister and tense air. The film is fairly violent, though this is seriously undermined by the use of cheap and unconvincing looking CGI blood which at times appears to bear little relation to the bodies it spurts from.
This doesn’t detract too much from the film’s dark edge however, and “One Last Dance” remains a hip, superior example of the Asian hitman genre which should be enjoyed by all fans of the form. As such, this DVD release is long overdue considering some of the similarly themed, though lower quality films which have enjoyed greater exposure, and hopefully it will now finally manage to find its audience.
Max Makowski (director) / Max Makowski (screenplay)
CAST: Francis Ng … T
Lung Ti … Captain
Vivian Hsu … Mae
Joseph Quek … Ko
Harvey Keitel … Terrtano