Second Time Around (2001) Movie Review

My never-ending enthusiasm for Time Travel movies is one of the few things I can depend on about myself. Jeffrey Lau’s Second Time Around is a Time Travel movie, and like all Time Travel movies, it utilizes a fantastical plot device to get our hero back in time, and employs the Back to the Future theme of self-fulfilling prophecy and altering the future.

Second Time Around stars Ekin Cheng (A Man Called Hero) as Ren, a flashy casino dealer who dreams of going to Vegas and winning enough money to retire on. Ren shares the dream with Sing (Jonathan Quan), his partner at the casino where they both work. After life throws a curveball at Ren by way of a cheating fianc’e, Ren and Sing steals some money from their casino and hightails it to Vegas to find their fortune. In Vegas, Ren is winning hand over fist until he encounters the casino’s ace dealer, a fellow name Jesus, who easily defeats Ren and dashes his dreams. On their way back home, broke and beaten, Ren and Sing shares a ride with Anna, who tells Ren about a magical amulet that can give people a second chance at life…

If you’ve never been to Las Vegas and all you had was this movie to go by, you would swear that 8 out of 10 people you’ll meet there were of Chinese origin and can speak fluent Chinese. Or at least that’s what it seems like with Second Time Around, where every other person in the movie is conveniently Chinese. To say that this “Chinese around every corner” concept is a little exaggerated is an understatement, but this is after all a Hong Kong production filmed in Nevada, and as such you need actors who can speak Chinese for the home (in this case Hong Kong) audience. And so I was able to buy this little fantasy without much trouble. Although I’m still bothered quite a bit by the very clich’ and highly dubious dialogue of American actors in Hong Kong movies. Would it be so hard to hire an American writer to do the English dialogues?

The plot device used to get Ren back in time to relive the last few days and change what went wrong is gimmicky and even silly. Then again, it’s no sillier than Michael J. Fox driving a DeLorean backwards in time to meet his own parents before he was even conceived. That is to say stepping into a Time Travel movie and questioning the method of time travel is akin to going to a gay pride parade and complaining that there’s too many homosexuals around. You knew what you were getting into, so don’t whine about what you get. The real thrust of Second Time Around is Ren trying to make up for mistakes of the past, and to that end, the movie’s Third Act is quite exciting, with some nice twists that were (unexpected) pleasant surprises.

Second Time Around stars the usually stoic Ekin Cheng, who I must admit to not being a big fan of. I’ve always accused the man of letting his hair do most of his acting, and thankfully his Ren character in Second Time Around, although flashy in fashion sense, has reasonably sane hair, and thus allows the man to show some acting chops. Cheng is good and is even likeable at times, but that’s only because Jonathan Ke Quan (Sing) is not onscreen nearly enough to steal the show.

Quan gives the movie’s best performance as Ren’s gay best friend, who grew up admiring Ren. Quan is also the movie’s comic foil and offers the film most of its laugh-out loud moments. That’s not to say he’s a strictly funny man, as the actor shows a lot of range in the movie’s (curiously shocking and unexpected) dramatic scenes. Cecilia Cheung (Failan) co-stars as Tina Chan, a Las Vegas Detective who chases Ren around town and is accidentally sent back in time with him. Cecilia does fine in her role when she’s speaking Chinese, but her English is atrocious. Still, she is incredibly easy on the eyes and her character was likeable, so there’s not much to complain about.

The movie is directed by Jeffrey Lau, who makes good use of the long stretches of Nevada desert landscape and bright lights of Las Vegas. The film has very little special effects to speak of but that wasn’t much of a hindrance. Johnny Koo fills in as Second Time Around’s cinematographer and does a fair job with the outdoor scenes, although I must say that the movie’s insistence on using moving overhead shots in its interior scenes every other third shot gets to be a little annoying.

Second Time Around is a good film with a hackneyed romance between Cheng and Cheung, but taken for what it is — a sci-fi Time Travel film — it’s not half bad.

Jeffrey Lau (director)
CAST: Ekin Cheng … Ren
Cecilia Cheung … Tina Chan
Jonathan Ke Quan …. Sing

Buy Second Time Around on DVD