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Great and massive real life gangster film from Hong Kong
Poon Man Kit directed To Be Number One and it is produced by the famous Johnny Mak. The film is based on real life gangster in Hong Kong and this film reminds very much of Scarface, but it definitely isn't any rip off since it's based on real and individual character, too. Both films give same kind of message and have similar kind of elements, and I really like these both. Ray Lui plays Ho, the main character in To Be Number One, who firstly is at the bottom (like Tony Montana), but soon begins to rise and reach the top in criminal world. Soon he is one of the chiefs in the criminal world and, unfortunately for him, betrayal and greed start to destroy his career and the lesson has begun..
This film is very long, it runs approximately 136 minutes which is pretty much for Hong Kong movie. Ray Lui is very professional and occasionally as manic in his performance as Al Pacino himself. Other actors are also fine and consist of many popular actors like Kent Cheng and Cecilia Yip. The theme of the film is the same as Scarface's and The Krays' for instance. All these films depict power and greed and how they are capable of destroying everything that has been reached. In Number One, all the characters seem to betray and finally there aren't many that can be trusted on. Power and money corrupts, and that has been the main theme in many great films before and after To Be Number One.
Technically this film is brilliant, and the director of photography is no less than Peter Pau himself. He made the incredible photography in films like Bride With White Hair and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon among many other films. The dust and blue smoke are hypnotically alive in this film and the same unique atmosphere lasts throughout the whole film. All the interiors and exteriors are extraordinarily shot and also edited. The magic created by camera in Hong Kong movies is almost impossible to describe with words, and the result is always in these films something never, or very seldom, found in Western cinema. The film is perhaps little confusing at times, but that is also typical in Hong Kong movies. There are many characters and plot turns and they are usually hard to follow and fully understand at first viewing. The viewer must be patient and concentrated when watching these Orient films. I don't think Number One is too long as there are many important segments that demand long running time. When film is this professionally shot and made, the long running time doesn't even come to mind and the film goes smoothly before the viewer's eyes without ever feeling too long.
The violence is strong in this film, but it is never gratuitous or too explicit, even though a film this violent is not likely to come from Hollywood nowadays. The axe battle at the beginning is almost as brutal as the infamous chainsaw scene in DePalma's Scarface. Number One is very violent throughout the film but it serves only as an effective element to depict the mayhem and madness that takes place in the movie and inside its real life characters' heads. The scenes of action are again very professionally and excitingly shot and done, and they really are unique when compared to other countries' efforts.
I give To Be Number One 8/10 and this is very noteworthy piece of Eastern cinema.
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