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  • 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.
  • Taking a break from his heavier Heroic Bloodshed titles of lead characters dying (The Killer, Bullet in the Head, A Better Tomorrow Trilogy) , John Woo returns back to genre which he branded his own with a more playful subject:

    Two brothers and their sister (raised under a strict art thief father) clear the debt they owe their father by engaging in high-risk heists. A High Valued French painting is believed to be cursed , whomever attempts to steal the painting dies. This Super-Valued Painting , along with a hidden triangle of love between the three con-artist , are the main themes of the movie

    And of course , it features some high class gun-fu featuring Leslie Cheng doing Tom Cruise stunt flips before Tom Cruise was even a thing
  • Vartiainen13 February 2018
    So, John Woo, one of, if not the greatest Hong Kong action director, directed a comedy. An action comedy, this is still Woo after all, but still a comedy. The story going that there are these three orphans, who have two foster fathers. One of them a criminal overlord, one a police officer. Initially they lean more towards the former, being master art thieves, but the influence of the latter cannot be denied.

    This is a peculiar movie to review. I mean, John Woo is John Woo. When you see one of his movies you expect iron tight action scenes, grim urban settings and tough antiheroes. And while this movie does have all of those, it doesn't feature them in a prominent role. It almost feels like a silly parody of a John Woo film, except that the man himself directed it. And yet at the same time it kinda works. Kinda sorta. I mean, it's silly beyond belief, but the action scenes, when they happen, are of the usual Woo goodness - though admittedly he doesn't bring in his A-game here.

    The actors are also charismatic and talented - with Chow Yun-fat once again stealing the show. The silliness of the story means that there are no great character moments, but then again I'd say that there is enough substance here to please those that require three-dimensional characters in order to enjoy a movie.

    Once a Thief is a barrel of laughs. Is it John Woo's best work? Not even close. Nevertheless, it's an enjoyable way to spend an hour or two and it certainly doesn't pale in comparison with Western action comedies.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Having made the extremely dark and violent films THE KILLER and BULLET IN THE HEAD one after the other, John Woo was in need of a break. He'd had enough of excess violence and bloodshed and wanted to make a more light-hearted flick, which is where ONCE A THIEF comes in. Eschewing the exploration of morality in his earlier films, he sets out with this caper movie which sees Chow Yun-Fat on winning form as an art thief persuaded to take one last job.

    What follows is a real mix of a movie. For starters, I love John Woo action and it's in short supply here, although he still has time to throw in two or three massive shoot-outs on the kind of scale you know and love. It's quite funny. There will be romance, quirky humour, and then suddenly a dozen automatic weapon-wielding thugs show up and start shooting the heck out of the scenery. There's time for stunts too, with cars rolling down stone steps during one frenetic chase scene and a truly wild climax which is up there with his best as director. Elsewhere the film seems weak. Woo is so intent on referencing his favourite European directors he forgets to put any substance with the style. Also, the humour is completely ridiculous too, absolutely stupid in places, and not really something Western audiences will enjoy. Sometimes Yun-Fat is cute and funny and at other times he acts like a real idiot.

    It's certainly not a bad film. The heist sequences are handled well and the later complexities of the plot are worth watching, although a long time in coming. Leslie Cheung gives a great performance as Yun-Fat's buddy although Cherie Chung is relegated to 'irritating sidekick'. There are a few twists and turns which are fun to watch and, as mentioned, a great action climax. Highlights include a magician whose tricks are deadly and an excellent exploding microwave moment. Still, this isn't a film I'd want to see again – unlike John Woo's next movie, his outstanding HARD BOILED.
  • kosmasp6 April 2007
    Once a thief how it was originally conceived by John Woo. And although it was nice that they let him remake(remade) his own work (but sadly for a TV audience as an appetizer for a TV show), this still is the real deal!

    Chow Yun Fat is captivating as ever, but you also have the great Leslie Cheung, who sadly took his own life a few years ago. But roles like this one make him unforgettable. Overall the movie is a little bit lighter than your average John Woo film, although that doesn't mean you won't recognize it as one! Normally this shouldn't be the first John Woo film you watch, but even if so, it doesn't matter, because you will enjoy it either way! :o) (at least that's what a Woo fan like me is saying/thinking!)
  • This film is in a different vein to John Woo's other films, the body count is lower than in any other of his heroic bloodshed movies. He uses martial arts more than in any other, and the infinitely charismatic Chow Yun Fat, played his role more like Benny Hill than clint Eastwood(Although Mr Chow, versatile as he is can play comedy just as well as his silent assassin, or the take no prisoners cop.) The departure from the standard Woo, high bodycount, 2 hour long shoot out type of film come from the fact that he had just made his two darkest films "The Killer" and "Bullet in the head". "At that time the world thought I was a very pessimistic guy" said Woo "but I just wanted to show to the world that I was actually an optimisic guy. I always think there's hope and beauty in the world" hence this light hearted film, in the style of an old heist movie. The plot centers around three highly skilled are thieves played by Chow Yun Fat, Cherie Chung and Leslie Cheung, involved in a love triangle. Although not as developed as "a better tomorrow", as beautifully cinematic as "The Killer" or as "brutally high octane as "a better tomorrow 2" and the fantastic "Hard boiled". This piece delivers, and is still miles better than anything that could come out of Hollywood. (with the possible exception of John Woo's american projects) If you know you would like this film go and buy it. I did, and although I paid a ridiculouly high price for it, I knew that Woo and Chow would not dissapoint, so it was money well spent.
  • Chow Yun Fat, Leslie Cheung and Cherie Chung make an attractive trio of art thieves who are double-crossed by gangsters after pulling off a job. Naturally they plot revenge. The story emphasis here is on elaborate and suspenseful heists being played out, and on charming banter amongst the main trio of characters, with the violent gun action largely reserved for the finale. The tone is lighter than most of Woo's film of this period, and the characters are more enjoyable. The glossy look reminds the viewer of the elaborate heist movies in vogue in the middle 60s, such as The Pink Panther or Topkapi and this one is similarly enjoyable time-passer.
  • I liked this film a lot, but I was constantly having to remind myself it was a John Woo film. Yeah, there are explosions, gunfights, violence, etc. etc. but it's all kept reasonably tame (for Woo at least). The movie was funny and charming--nothing like you'd expect from one of his films. Worth watching, but Yun-Fat (sp?) should stick to drama - he was overacting WAY too much in this one when he tried to be funny.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    I tend to associate the films of John Woo with non stop well choreographed violent action but this one is different. Yes, there is plenty of action, some of which is fairly violent but the over all tone feels much lighter as there are also plenty of gags, some of which had me laughing out loud.

    The film starts in France where we see a trio of thieves stealing a valuable painting from a moving lorry as it is transferred from a museum. When they give the painting to their French employer he asks them to steal another painting, the two men in the group say they are happy to take on the job but the woman, who is acting as translator tells their employer they have declined the offer.

    The two men proceed to steal the painting and escape in a thrilling car chase which ends in the apparent death of "Red Bean Pudding" (Chow Yun Fat). James (Leslie Cheung) and "Red Bean" (Cherie Chung) return to Hong Kong and after a while they are surprised to discover that their friend is still alive, it turns out he survived the crash but is now in a wheel chair. They also learn that the painting they stole in France is now the prized possession of their Fagin-like adoptive father. They are determined to steal it back off him which leads to several memorable scenes including attempting to steal a set of keys at a dance where Chow Yun Fat demonstrates that he is quite a dancer... in a wheel chair. The final shoot out is both exciting and hilarious.

    If you are a fan of John Woo's work I'd recommend this, it is also a great film to introduce his work to people one thinks might not be so keen on his purely action flicks. It probably isn't suitable for children though as there is quite a lot of shooting and some swearing.

    These comments are based on watching the film in Cantonese with English subtitles, an English dubbed version is also available.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Once A Thief sees John Woo trying something a little different—at least for the much of the movie's running time, after which the director once again breaks out the big guns, the slo-mo and the explosive violence for a typically stylish action blowout.

    The film starts as a comedic crime caper set in the sunny South of France, with a trio of charismatic Chinese cat burglars—Red Bean Pudding (Chow Yun Fat), Red Bean (Cherie Chung) and James (Leslie Cheung)—barely breaking a sweat whilst pulling off a few tricky art heists, with a few flashbacks to their childhoods as happy-go-lucky orphans raised by a Fagin-style father figure.

    The action stays in this lightweight gear for quite some time, but a mid-movie shootout and car chase marks a gradual move into slightly darker territory: it's at this point that it becomes apparent that Woo's antagonists aren't all that dissimilar to those in his other movies, having no qualms about taking lives to get the job done. It also sees Red Bean Pudding involved in a nasty car crash that leaves him hospitalised and presumed dead by his friends.

    The film then reverts back to playful mode for a while, with Red Bean Pudding revealing to his pals that he is still alive, displaying his skill at dancing the tango in a wheelchair, and teaching his wicked 'dad' a lesson in the auction room. Thankfully, the best is saved for last, Woo bringing on the ballistics for a frantic final act, Red Bean Pudding and James pulling off one final robbery that results in numerous explosions, lots of corpses (including several innocent security guards!), and which features a silly bad guy who dispenses with conventional weaponry, preferring to sling playing cards at his enemy.

    All in all, Once a Thief isn't essential Woo or Chow Yun Fat, but the film still has enough going for it to make it a reasonably entertaining way to waste 100 minutes or so.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Since seeing Hard Boiled for the first time last month,I've been in the mood to check more of the credits of auteur John Woo. Taking part in a 90's Challenge on ICM before a best of 1991 movies poll kicks off,I was pleased to find a Woo title from the year,which led to me following the thief.

    View on the film:

    Not filming in Asia for the first time, (but retaining the Hong Kong crew)co-writer/(with Janet Chun & Clifton Ko) directing auteur John Woo gives his visual motifs a playful twist,by using the south of France location to wipe down (some) grit and present a "Caper"/heist flick, which sees Woo dip into his pre-Heroic Bloodshed era past with a glittering comedic dance number. Playing the heist out with vibrant, fluid camera moves casting a slick atmosphere over each sleight of hand, Woo turns the cards on the thieving by introducing his Heroic Bloodshed stylisation to the surroundings (send in the dove from above)lit up by a spectacular Bullet Ballet of burning red flames, rapid-fire Gun-Fu and invented stunts using items round the house in the 40-minute explosive final,which brings the sleight of hand unpredictability to the action.

    Hit by both The Killer and A Bullet In The Head bombing in Hong Kong, Woo reunites with Bullet writer Janet Chun, and is joined by Clifton Ko in planning a captivating Caper,with Joe (played with a charismatic cheekiness by Chow Yun-Fat) and Jim's (played by a terrific Leslie Cheung) breezy dialogue,and a sweet side romance with fellow thief Cheri (played by a sweet and sly Cherie Chung) brewing a sparkling atmosphere, as the trio thrillingly plan each stage of the heist. Taking the wheels of the heist off the rails, the writers take great delight in spinning bonkers Caper twists involving Joe with the continuation of Woo's exploration of the samurai-style loyalty at the heart of Heroic Bloodshed (a Butch and Sundance poster is shown on a wall),given extra spikes by the parental-like betrayal from the elder which holds the orphan trio as a group,who escape all attempts to catch a thief.
  • John Woo's "Once a Thief" is a pretty entertaining movie which is original and clever like most other Woo films. It's mostly a suspense thief picture with lots of comedy mixed in with a romantic love-triangle and a little bit of Chow Yun-Fat/John Woo gunplay action of course. There is never any blood -let in this rather light film. I think John Woo wanted to tone down the violence and put more suspense/comedy in his well-known balance scale. It's pretty obvious when the usually trigger-happy Chow Yun Fat spares the life of a threatening gangster and kicks him out of a window instead. That might be along the "Die Hard" Hollywood terms, but for loyal Chow and Woo fans, it's very surprising. The storyline is one of Woo's most simple and innocent, but it set the film up for a couple of robberies which will grip you until the end. Leslie Cheung is dead serious and good as always, Chow Yun Fat is in his "Better Tomorrow II" mood: his lighter, more comedic mode which is somewhat more likeable. This mode is usually used for Woo's lighter, less serious films which don't need much acting. Chow's "Killer" serious mood is what made him famous for, but he doesn't suit that mood as well as this movie's character does.
  • This is a lighthearted and funny movie that everyone will enjoy. Yes, some people get shot and a few vehicles explode. After all, it's John Woo. But it's very different from the usual heavy, brooding loyalty/betrayal theme of his other movies, and the love triangle is really ... cute. That's right, cute. This is as cute as John Woo will ever get.

    Chow Yun-Fat is as bad-ass as ever, and you get to see him flirt and be very funny. Leslie shows off his ubiquitous tango skills. And at least 3 very good action scenes. All in all, this is one John Woo movie that's also a date movie. You can even watch this with your Mom.
  • ONCE A THIEF (Zong Heng Si Hai)

    Aspect ratio: 1.85:1

    Sound format: Mono

    Three professional thieves (Chow Yun-fat, Leslie Cheung and Cherie Chung) steal a valuable painting coveted by their villainous mentor (Kenneth Tsang), leading to violent retribution.

    John Woo redeemed the commercial failure of his masterpiece BULLET IN THE HEAD (1990) with this breezy comedy-caper, designed to restore his directorial fortunes at home and abroad. Originally conceived as a dark-hearted tragedy, Woo and co-screenwriter Clifton Ko (FOREVER YOURS) re-tooled the project for a Chinese New Year release, allowing the director to indulge his fondness for French New Wave cinema by setting much of the narrative within continental Europe, toplined by some of HK's biggest - and most iconic - movie stars. Chow overplays his role as an experienced jewel thief who alienates his loved ones by refusing to take life seriously, while Cheung and Chung are sympathetic and beautiful as his trusted sidekicks (the scene in which they dance the tango at a swank party is one of the highlights of their respective careers). Typically of Woo, the action scenes are fluid, dynamic and endlessly inventive, photographed with glossy precision by world-class cinematographer Poon Hang-sang (SHANGHAI GRAND). Planned and executed within a three month period (!), the movie overcomes its rough edges and jarring comic interludes (get a load of that final scene!) to emerge as an irresistible blend of big stars, fancy glamour and creative set-pieces. Woo returned to the story in 1996 for a Canadian TV movie (using the same title) which was dismissed by fans and general audiences alike, and quickly disappeared. Stick with the original.

    (Cantonese dialogue)
  • Once A Thief is the first collaboration between John Woo and Chow Yun-Fat after their hugely successful THE KILLER. The movie is about three art thieves that want to still just ONE more picture before they retire. As always it is rather predictable that something very dramatic will happen, but you`ll have to see the movie to find out exactly what. Once a Thief can be called a romantic violence-comedy. The actionscenes are nicely directed, but you won`t be blown away by them as by those in THE KILLER. I don`t like many of the jokes in Once A thief. I think most of them are rather corny and just plain stupid. This is a nice example, where a Hong-kongfilm is TOO weird for a Western audience to really appriciate. But I`m sure that Eastern fans will love it to bits, I didn`t. Worth a look though, and a million times better than the EXTREMELY POOR American re-make from 1996. 7,5/10
  • Warning: Spoilers
    *SPOILERS*

    Once a Thief (1991) is a true disappointment for me. I don't get the hype, this slapstick humor in this film and I don't get what is so good about this film?! I have a lot of problems with this comedy. I have never saw Yun Fat-Chow acting so awful in any movie. This movie is way overrated, the pacing is very slow and boring, the dialogue is dull and the ending is a mess. I mean how can people praise this film? Am I the only one who doesn't like it? Nice cover and nice tagline "They only stop to reload. " What reload? I haven't seen anything been reload in this stinker movie. The plot is confusing to me. 6.8 on IMDb Is way overrated, Hard Target, Broken Arrow and Paycheck get's thumbs down but this one get's thumbs up? low! This film isn't for me, I rather watch Hard Boiled and The Killer. I would rather watch Jackie Chan's Armor of God (1986) is way much better movie than this stupid film. What was John Woo thinking while trying to write a stupid action comedy, with less action, less shot outs and wow Chow Yun-Fat embarrassed him self on here. The music is awful is like more French than Chinese. The ending was awful, why did they have to show those three been parents to three kids was stupid! Chow Yun-Fat turned out a clown Jesus.

    Like I said I would rather watch Jackie Chan's Armor of God (1986), Police Story 3: Supercop (1992) and Wheels on Meals (1984) which are far way better action comedy's than this stinker is. Well anyway the movie starts slow, I don't get who are those three people except they are professional art thieves: Are they lovers? or they are brothers and sisters because I thought they were all relatives brothers and sisters or they are just childhood friends? Trough half of movie Chow Yun-Fat is suddenly on a wheelchair and doesn't do anything trough whole movie. By the end of the film he jumps off the wheelchairs and starts kicking his father's face: honestly? that wasn't Chow Yun-Fat that was his stunt double, John Woo did not make a slow motion so that everyone wouldn't see Chow Yun-Fat's stunt double. Jesus this movie was horrible. What is Cherie Chung doing in this movie? What is her story? Trough whole movie she doesn't do anything, I honestly haven't saw her as an art thief, but I saw her as a fake lover mistress to those two guys Chow Yun-fat and Leslie Cheung. She had no action scene in this movie nothing, she did nothing.

    I did like some few things in this movie that were really good, I like the action scenes on the opening scene when Chow Yun-Fat is robbing the truck and Leslie Cheung is under the track that was great scene. Leslie Cheung droves under the truck his motorcycle and he slides him self under truck, that was great scene and really dangerous stunt work. The scenes with flying destroying the car were great and it was really stunts used, the shootouts with Leslie Cheung where really entertaining and I like the explosion. I liked Kong Chu playing those trio adopted policeman father, Kong Chu also played Chow Yun-Fat's friend Fung Sei in The Killer (1989) which the actor right after The Killer when and made this movie with John Woo and Chow Yun-Fat. The last shout outs where also entertaining but that was all. Leslie Cheung saved a young boy a kid from shooting and he saved his life that was way decent from the character to do, I liked that.

    This movie isn't for me, I rather watch Hard Target, Broken Arrow, Hard Boiled, Paycheck and The Killer those are my favorite John Woo movies. John Woo and Chow Yun-Fat favorite movies are Hard Boiled and The Killer which are far, far way better movies than this one, even acting is way better in The Killer than in here. I am giving this movie a 3 nothing more I don't get the hype for this film. I am very disappointed with the comedy and slapstick humor in here I wasn't excepting this from John Woo.

    Once a Thief (Chinese: 縱橫四海; pinyin: Zong heng si hai; Literal Title: Criss-Cross Over Four Seas) is a 1991 Hong Kong crime film written and directed by John Woo,

    3/10 Grade: E- Studio: Golden Princess Film Production Limited, Milestone Pictures Starring: Chow Yun-fat, Leslie Cheung, Cherie Chung, Kenneth Tsang, Kong Chu Director: John Woo Producers: Terence Chang, Linda Kuk Screenplay: John Woo, Janet Chun, Clifton Ko Rated: R Running Time: 1 Hr. 48 Mins.
  • leighm3 August 1999
    A light froth of art theft, Hong Kong-style action and campy comedy from John Woo. A trio of street urchins are raised by a Fagin-like character to lives of crime, something at which they excel. There's something here for everyone, plenty of laughs, suspense and action. There are also a few sly spoofs of previous HK films, including one tip of the hat to Chow Yun-Fat's own "God of Gamblers".

    Chow Yun-Fat, Leslie Cheung and Cherie Chung's characters are attractive, bright and have an interesting three-way romance going. From the (highly campy and very funny) ending, you're never quite sure if all those kids have the same father.

    Of special note is Chow Yun-Fat's ability to make a character in a wheelchair believable as a total kick-ass thief and ballroom dancer. > This is no heavy Woo-drenched classic but it's a fun watch and definitely worth the price of admission.
  • This is about three international thieves, who've known each other since childhood. Their father was a very unpleasant man who beat them, but they since found a good-hearted cop(well, he found them... with loot) who took them in. You'll know right from when you first hear the silly theme tune that this isn't as serious as other of Woo's films. He brings his trademark style and action(slow-motion shoot-outs and chases, some of them vehicular) to this, albeit there's less of the latter(it can be pretty exciting, though), and neither look as great as they do in other of his movies. It honestly comes off kind of cheaply produced, the way it's filmed(meanwhile, editing is sharp). With that said, it does go for plenty of gags(a few of them quite creative and memorable), and it isn't phoned in. This has a couple of cool heists. The humor is very goofy, campy and playful, and I personally found next to none of it funny. Maybe it's on account of cultural differences, but at times I really didn't understand the characters' actions, and this also seemed to take massive leaps in the tone. I didn't see much consequence to most of what happened in this. The version I watched was evidently dubbed, if only a little of it was to English. Chow Yun Fat is awesome, if this did have me cringing at the majority of what was said and done(when not involving guns, at least). There is a bit of disturbing content and mild to moderate violence in this. The DVD comes with several trailers for similar films. I recommend this to fans of Chinese comedy and to an extent, of the director. 7/10
  • sarastro711 January 2007
    I don't have a lot of reverence for John Woo. I have next to no interest in gangster movies with lots of shooting. But I love kung fu movies. Unfortunately, John Woo hardly ever does any of those. Oh, the mature John Woo can certainly do action (as in Mission Impossible 2, the best of the lot), but most of his stuff strikes me as horribly dull. In Once A Thief, he attempts a light-hearted action-drama-comedy starring three orphans who are raised first as thieves and then apparently as cops, and then end up becoming thieves. Or something.

    The movie is dull as dish-water. Featuring insufferable Hong Kong humor (dumb and malicious practical jokes which aren't funny to the ones they happen to, but apparently a barrel of laughs to a Hong Kong audience), and a terrible soundtrack (featuring accordions and such) which is apparently supposed to sound French.

    Chow Yun Fat's acting is frankly horrid, and his character is a moronic bastard. He's the main reason that this movie is bordering on the unwatchable. (Not that he hasn't been good in other movies; he certainly has. Especially in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.)

    I watched this movie because I'm a fan of the Once A Thief TV show (1997), which I love. It does everything right - both the comedy and the seriousness -, and happily has nothing whatsoever beyond the name and the fact that it's got three lead characters in it in common with the movie. The characters in the movie are not involved in an organized crime family like the ones in the TV show, and in the TV show they aren't even thieves (well, they were once, but...), so the title doesn't make sense, either, as anything but an attempt to capitalize on the fame of the movie, the wisdom of which is questionable to say the least.

    Anyway, I'll spare you my bitterness over John Woo's general suckage and just express my gratitude that he has nothing whatsoever to do with the TV show, despite being credited as executive producer.

    3 out of 10.
  • Sorry, guys for the trivial summary ! This is my first review on IMDb, plus I am a Frenchman.

    It was only when I understood the purpose of this movie, that I was ready to rate it.

    During the movie, I enjoyed the quality of the picture (colors and lights are great, the music is good too)... The gunfights were OK to me (It's not a typical John Woo bullet-filled movie, and that's a plus to me), the accent of the french businessman funny, and the stupid jokes of the 2 thieves were "cool", the way they defeat their enemies surprising...

    So I was saying to myself : this was an-above-the-average Kung-Fu and mafia movie when suddenly... I got it ! This movie is full of... love ! John Woo shows his love of Paris, his respect for friendship, the way he would like handicapped people to be treated, and many other things... So, in my opinion, this movie beats every Jackie Chan movie, because it is filled with humanity and humility.

    I am glad I watched this gem and I recommend it to you.

    My only complaint is that it's a tiny bit too long.
  • Once A Thief brings John Woo back to his comedic roots. While, I myself have not seen Woo's earliest films, I know before he did action he was a comedy director. It makes sense(to me at least) that Woo did a project in a lighter direction coming off of his dark masterpiece Bullet In The Head. Once A Thief is an action packed comedy caper about a trio of art thieves that grew up together as orphans and have two adoptive fathers. One of the father's is good(a kindhearted police officer played by Chu Kong) and the other is bad(a gangster played by Ken Tsang). The friendship/love triangle theme between Chow Yun Fat, Cherie Chung and Leslie Cheung kinda works(but not nearly as well as it did in The Killer). In no way is this film in the same class as The Killer or Hard Boiled. However, it still should be enjoyable enough for most fans of the genre. The cast has excellent chemistry as most of these actors worked with John Woo frequently and/or together in various films. Like I said before, the tone of the film is light. The film moves along at a brisk pace and has enough shoot em' up action to please most of John Woo's fans. Once A Thief came out in between two of Woo's best films, Bullet In The Head and Hard Boiled. It can't touch either of these, but I still regard Once A Thief as above average and good for what it is.
  • It's a good caper with some nice tension and action. Better acting than you would expect in a movie like this.
  • Well "Once a Thief" (aka "Chung hang sei hoi"), while it is enjoyable, it is hardly among the best of John Woo's movies. Now, don't get me wrong here, because I am not speaking ill about the movie. "Once a Thief" was an entertaining and watchable movie, it just lacked the certain over-the-top action element that John Woo is known for.

    I have seen "Once a Thief" about five times now, since I first had it on VHS back in the 1990s, and then later on as DVD. And yes, it is a movie that can be watched again and again with some years in between.

    The 1991 movie "Once a Thief" has a nice story to it, and this being a John Woo movie and a 1990s Hong Kong action movie, then realism and real world physics are not things that hardly are accurate in the movie.

    This movie has a good combination of storytelling and action to make it well worth the time to watch it.

    And as icing on top of the cake, then the movie has the likes of Yun-Fat Chow, Leslie Cheung, Kong Chu and Kenneth Tsang on the cast list. So if you are familiar with the Hong Kong cinema, you will definitely be in good company.

    I am rating "Once a Thief" a six out of ten stars.
  • ZombiJam11 September 1998
    In the world of high-class art thievery, grace counts. And these three certainly have it down pat. Chow Yun-Fat hams it up a bit this time, playing clown to the others' more serious relationship. Overall, great fun... but what the hell's that ending about?
  • A movie about three childhood friends who have grown up to be professional thieves, and their misadventures when they get mixed up with gangsters who are after a priceless painting. It's probably the most light-hearted John Woo movie I've seen, with at least 90% of its runtime being all-out comedic (even much of the action). That said, I don't think it's his funniest movie, because Face/Off exists.

    If IMDb's trivia is correct in saying that this movie premiered only 10 weeks after it started shooting, I can see it. Besides the final 10-15 minutes of action, a lot of it feels a bit slapped together. Even the earlier action, while good, isn't as tight or exciting as most John Woo action scenes manage to be (thinking about a good deal of the car chase at the film's halfway point).

    The comedy doesn't always work, but stars Chow Yun-Fat and Leslie Cheung are both very charismatic, and through their talent and collective screen presence, do make some of it work. The romance is a bit strange and underdeveloped, but that's okay- didn't really come to a John Woo movie for that.

    A good deal of the action at the end is amazing. A lot of it rides the line between ridiculous and cool perfectly, but eventually, it gets a touch too silly, and it's not the kind of dumb slapstick that works perfectly. I wonder if the comedy in general would have worked better if this has been a Jackie Chan-led movie, but maybe the problem is more with the screenplay and the (alleged) rushed shooting schedule.

    So overall: some of it really delivers. Some of it's not great. It's a lesser John Woo movie, but it seems even his not so great movies still have plenty to offer.
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