6.8/10
5,590
32 user 24 critic

Once a Thief (1991)

Chung hang sei hoi (original title)
A romantic and action packed story of three best friends, a group of high end art thieves, who come into trouble when a love-triangle forms between them.

Director:

John Woo
Reviews
5 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Credited cast:
Yun-Fat Chow ... Red Bean Puddin - Joe (as Chow Yun Fat)
Leslie Cheung ... James - Jim
Cherie Chung ... Red Bean - Cheri
Kong Chu ... Chu - Dad
Kenneth Tsang ... Chow - Father
David Wu ... Auctioneer
Fung Woo ... Mr. Cheung (as Wu Fung)
Pierre-Yves Burton Pierre-Yves Burton ... Mr. Le Bond (as Pierre Yves Burton)
Declan Wong Declan Wong ... Magician Henchman (as Declan Michael Wong)
Patrick Hon ... Hitman
Yat Kwun Tang Yat Kwun Tang ... Young Red Bean Pudding - Young Joe
Ka Fai Tong ... Young James - Young Jim
Leila Tong ... Young Red Bean - Young Cherie (as Lina Kong)
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Kin-Shing Choi Kin-Shing Choi ... Guard
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Storyline

Once a Thief is an action/comedy/romance movie involving the plight of three master thieves (in the mode of Pink Panther). All three were raised by the same father and in fact were most certainly street orphans. The story begins with a successful art heist followed by a pledge to make this the last crime ever for the trio. The plot revolves around the theft of a mysterious "cursed" painting and how its obsession affects the family. Written by <sysop@hal9k.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

They only stop to reload.


Certificate:

R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Country:

Hong Kong

Language:

French | Cantonese | English | Hakka

Release Date:

2 February 1991 (Hong Kong) See more »

Also Known As:

Once a Thief See more »

Filming Locations:

Cannes, Alpes-Maritimes, France See more »

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Box Office

Gross USA:

HKD33,397,149
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono

Color:

Color

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

The time elapsed between the first day of shooting and the first public screening of the finished film was ten weeks. See more »

Goofs

When Joe and Cherie are driving behind the truck, that is transporting the paintings (including their marked one), you can clearly see the rope holding the car of Joe and Cherie close to the truck during the stunt scene. See more »

Quotes

James: We're always travelling. We should look for somewhere to call home.
Red Bean Pudding: Brother James, don't say things like that.
[quotes a famous chinese saying]
Red Bean Pudding: There are very old mountains and rivers, heroes don't seek a place to rest, people won't always be dancing on stage, and trends will be blown away by the wind and rain.
See more »

Alternate Versions

All German versions, including the TV-Version, are cut. See more »

Connections

References Jules and Jim (1962) See more »

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User Reviews

 
the entire experience is a mixed-bag of thrill, embarrassment and frivolousness, often in a cyclical fashion
4 October 2016 | by lasttimeisawSee all my reviews

The penultimate HK picture of action-tastemaker John Woo before he was signed up to conquer Hollywood-land in 1993, ONCE A THIEF reunites Chow and Cheung from Woo's most esteemed A BETTER TOMORROW franchise, teams up with Cherie Chung (who would soon get married and retire entirely from the screen) in this ultra-breezy ménage-à-trois caper, which, at the start, sets its adventurous background in an exotic France, then after the midstream, routinely retreats back to Woo's turf to anticipate its bullets-flying homestretch.

The film is super fun to watch, on account of the charming facade of those three Hong Kong screen icons. Joe (Chow), Jim (Cheung) and Cherie (Chung) are three orphans raised and trained by a sinister crime boss Chow (Tsang) as professional thieves, meanwhile they also befriend with another father figure, the kind-hearted cop Chu (Chu). Joe and Cherie become an item when they grow up, and Jim holds back his affection to Cherie. In France, they successfully steal a Modigliani's painting, but their next mission goes amiss, resulting in a heavily-armed skirmish and Joe is presumably dead. Jim and Cherie return to Hong Kong in despondence, and their romance blossoms, then a wheelchair-bound Joe shows up unexpectedly and reticently gives them his blessing. The trio reconcile like old-times, only now Joe is the third wheel in their good rapport. More urgently, they have to settle the old scores with Chow, and Woo leaves a very wayward twist to temper the picture's trigger-happy excess, as if he tellingly tips off audience that don't take the story seriously, it is a jolly ride, just enjoy the experience.

The emotion tangle of the triangular relationship could have been developed into a more complex and heart-tugging structure since they are all able players, although a cordially comic gaiety seeps thoroughly into the narrative thanks to Chow's chameleon-like swagger (including his wheelchair dance routine) and Cheung's wet-behind-the-ears ardor, which leaves Chung most of the time like a pretty foil. Also the good dad/bad father trope doesn't really register under such black-or-white and cartoonish impetuosity.

The action set pieces are flashy at their best, churning-out at their worst. They may look dashing at first glance, but soon plummet into passable effects borne out of a shambolic manufacture, a sign of the times of HK film production. One particularly WTF scene materializes when Jim sawing a wooden plank under the bottom of a barreling lorry, which is transporting precious artworks of Musée du Louvre, on which planet, the lorry would have a wooden bottom? Which instantly snatches audience out of the credentials of the trio's teamwork. Moreover Violet Lam's synthetic score doesn't help, it is sheer obtrusively objectionable to one's ears.

ONCE A THIEF is a jaunty divergence from John Woo's more polished, bullet-ridden and heroic fraternity bravura, but shackled by the incoherent attribute between a heads-in-the-clouds lark and a dead-serious survival strategy at gunpoint, the entire experience is a mixed-bag of thrill, embarrassment and frivolousness, often in a cyclical fashion, before one's investment runs dry.


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