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Once a Thief (1991)

Cast: Chow Yun-Fat, Chow Yun-Fat, Leslie Cheung, more...
Director: John Woo, John Woo
    see all cast/crew...
Studio: Columbia TriStar
Genre: Foreign, Hong Kong, China, Capers
Running Time: 108 min.
Languages: English, Cantonese
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
    see additional details...

This title is currently out of print.

For this 1991 action comedy from Hong Kong, director John Woo took a break from his ultraviolent thrillers; it was made a year after Bullet in the Head, and a year before Hard-Boiled. Chow Yun-Fat, Leslie Cheung, and Cherie Chung portray a trio of orphans who have grown to become art thieves. When their foster father (Kenneth Tsang), a powerful crime boss, forces them into stealing a painting, they pull off the job but are double-crossed. To get even, the trio plans a heist to steal the painting back. The three lead characters are funny and romantic; they're daring art thieves in the tradition of "The Cat" from To Catch a Thief or The Pink Panther, and the film evokes the same cosmopolitan feel. Once a Thief is far less bloody than Woo's gangster pictures, but in this film, the burglary sequences possess all the astounding grace of his other films' gunfights. ~ Jonathan E. Laxamana, All Movie Guide

GreenCine Member Reviews

Woo gets silly...again!!! by toddandsteph July 3, 2006 - 2:07 PM PDT
Once A Thief: John Woo, after putting out his two most negative and spirit-crushing films, put out a silly action comedy. First of all, it's always great to see Chow Yun Fat. Second of all, he brought back Chu Kong (his performance in The Killer is nothing short of astounding!). Is it as good as the films preceding it and following it? Probably not. Is it actually funny? Kinda sorta in that HK comedy sort of way. Does it have some sweet action sequences? Heck yes! Woo doesn't blow himself out, but the action scenes here are at least on par with Bullet In The Head (although they come nowhere near the previous' intensity). There's some really sharp stuff here, but there's also plenty of really dumb and hammy scenes, laden with a side of homoeroticism that all of us Woo fans try to ignore but can't help enjoying due to that familiarity. See it for Yun Fat, if for nothing else. He has a pretty funny bit at the end that's very different from his Alain Delon scenes in The Killer. *** and 1/2 * out've *****

Oh Woo is me! by danleary25 March 18, 2004 - 11:46 PM PST
1 out of 4 members found this review helpful
I love John Woo movies and I love his movies with Chow Yung-Fat the most so it's hard to understand why this one turned out so bad. It seems after so many ultraviolent films Woo and Yung-Fat attempted to show they had a fun and gentle side as well. In fact this movie suffers badly by trying to be something like Jackie Chan's A Better Tomorrow. Unfortunately neither Woo nor Fat have the form or consistency needed for that kind of HK action flick. Although Once a Thief has an R-rating the action never surpasses PG-13, this on its own is not a problem, but Woo still tries to do his same brand of action while keeping a cap on the aftermath. This results in unrealistic scenes which become tedious when compared to the realism of his serious movies. In A-Team fashion, enemies open rounds of machine gun fire on the heroes standing open and unprotected yet never hit a thing. Even in Brotherhood Bloodshed movies the heroes survive uncountable odds but at least get hit once in a while to keep it practical. The only possible saving grace, humor, is absent. Inexplicable and clearly intentional goofiness appears then disappears and left me with the feeling that Once a Thief has no idea what kind of action movie it wants to be. Thankfully the team made a more consistent effort in Hard-Boiled the next year, but Once A Thief is easily skipped in the Woo/Yung-Fat pantheon.

GreenCine Member Rating

(Average 6.52)
65 Votes
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In Memoriam - Leslie Cheung (1956-2003)
A selective list of the films that made a star of one of Hong Kong's most charismatic actors.
Leslie Cheung (R.I.P.) films
Films by the late Leslie Cheung

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