fter the celebrated triumph of "Lost
in Time", Hong Kong filmmaker Derek Yee returns with a story that
is grittier and a whole lot messier than his previous award-winning film.
The location this time around is Mongkok, known as the most populated city
in the world. It's here that Lai Fu (Daniel Wu), an uneducated villager
from Mainland China, arrives to carry out an assassination on the behest
of a Mongkok crime lord. But Lai Fu has an ulterior motive: he's seeking a
young woman name Sue, the love of his life, who came to Mongkok and hasn't
been heard from since.
As Lai Fu maneuvers through the foreign confines of
Mongkok, he comes into contact with Dan (Cecilia Cheung), a young
prostitute who, as luck would have it, is from the same village as Lai Fu.
With many more trips to Mongkok under her belt, Dan is used to the hustle
and bustle of the city, and after Lai Fu saves her from a violent john,
she agrees to help him transverse the alleyways and crowded streets in
search of Sue. Unbeknownst to them, cops led by Milo (Alex Fong) are after
Lai Fu, hoping to head off a gang war if they can catch the hitman before
he fulfills his contract.
By contrast, the script for "Lost in Time"
must have looked like a simple napkin compared to the congested nature of
"One Nite in Mongkok". No doubt writer/director Derek Yee is
drawing a parallel between his script's overcrowded nature and the city
featured in it. Even as Lai Fu and Dan navigate the city's many red light
districts in search of the elusive Sue, Milo is hot on his tail without
ever knowing who Lai Fu is. Meanwhile, a middleman name Liu (Suet Lam) is
playing both sides, hoping to lead Milo to Lai Fu while at the same time
hoping to lead the would-be killer to his target. It's a convoluted series
of events that culminates in a bloody ending.
Cecilia Cheung returns as Yee's muse, diving with
aplomb into a character that looks shallow, but is in fact rather complex.
She plays a village girl who is at once world weary and still naïve; when
Lai Fu refuses an offer of free sex she thinks he's weird, but when he
buys her an expensive necklace, she gushes with authentic gratitude.
Although there are shades of the generic "hooker with a heart of
gold" in Dan, there are moments when we realize that Dan is only
human. When Lai Fu pursues a purse-snatcher to retrieve Dan's purse, Dan
delights in the idea of running off with Lai Fu's bags and the money
inside. That is, until she discovers the gun inside the bag.
Not that the men of "One Nite in Mongkok"
doesn't hold their own. Daniel Wu ("Purple
Storm") is believable as the stoic Lai Fu. Although uneducated,
Lai Fu is street smart, even if he has no idea what street he's currently
standing on. Tough and focused, he knows exactly where he's going, even if
he doesn't know how to get there. When he discovers that Liu is playing
both sides of the fence, Lai Fu retaliates, threatening to unleash
vengeance that has Liu shaking in the streets. It's only because of Dan's
presence that Liu finds salvation. As Lai Fu reminds Dan of what she used
to be, Dan reminds Lai Fu that turning back is still possible, and all
they have to do is go for it.
The third wheel in Derek Yee's tale is Alex Fong
who is dead-on as the tired cop. Although the role might seem familiar,
and Fong has certainly played the hardboiled cop more than once in his
career, the quiet intensity of the man is impossible to ignore. Nowhere is
Fong's quiet, unassuming portrayal of Milo more effective than when he is
in the presence of a young, trigger-happy cop. The contrast is so
startling that you wonder how they'll both survive the night.
If there is one fault with "One Nite in
Mongkok" it's that Yee never really allows for an alternative to the
bleak ending that the film presents. The film is on such a nihilistic
train track that it would have been impossible, and unrealistic, for
"Mongkok" to end any other way. So while the ending is
appropriate to the tale at hand, one is still left with a sense of
inevitability. But again, it's not as if the ending is an ambush in
anyway. From the very beginning Yee has telegraphed the film's grim
conclusion, especially in the dialogue by the Mainlanders about their fate
in life. The line, "My life is cheap," shows up more than once.
Nevertheless, "One Nite in Mongkok" is the
second strong film from Derek Yee in as many years. And although the film
treads familiar ground, it's still a very affecting
story of hope lost, found, and lost again.