Once Upon A Time In Hong Kong review: Corruption within the ranks

Lim Yian Lu
·3 min read
Gordon Lam and Louis Koo in Once Upon A Time In Hong Kong. (Photo: Shaw Organisation)
Gordon Lam and Louis Koo in Once Upon A Time In Hong Kong. (Photo: Shaw Organisation)

Length: 106 minutes
Directors: Wong Jing, Woody Hui
Cast: Louis Koo, Tony Leung Ka-fai, Francis Ng, Lam Ka-tung
Language: Mandarin with English and Chinese subtitles
Release details: In theatres 29 April (Singapore)

3 out of 5 stars

Set in Hong Kong in the 1970s, Once Upon A Time In Hong Kong illustrates a tale about how the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) dealt with corruption in its early stages of establishment. Overseeing all the briberies are Chinese detective sergeant Chui Lak (Francis Ng) and Cripple Ho (Tony Leung Ka-fai) — granting them control in both the underworld and the society.

On the other hand, Hank Chan (Louis Koo) is a righteous lawyer, who feels great injustice for society. Having seen Hank’s integrity, Nash Pak (Lam Ka-tung) invites Hank to join him in the ICAC. The duo expand their team by personally recruiting trustworthy individuals, and work on breaking down corruption, starting with the police.

Tony Leung Ka-fai (left) and Francis Ng in Once Upon A Time In Hong Kong. (Photo: Shaw Organisation)
Tony Leung Ka-fai (left) and Francis Ng in Once Upon A Time In Hong Kong. (Photo: Shaw Organisation)

The plot offers a great buildup to the climax, detailing how the ICAC comes up with multiple strategies to overcome corruption, only to be met with retaliation from Chui Lak. It is not difficult to feel the frustration that Hank has, which he voices out to Nash, “When we tried to rouse public opinion, he started a strike. When we got hold of a witness, he murdered the witness. How can we go on?”

The beginning of a new organisation is, more often than not, challenging. Once Upon A Time In Hong Kong is able to present the level of difficulty that ICAC faces, and make it all seem hopeless. But perhaps they have pumped up the level of difficulty so much that the resolution seems weak in contrast and less than satisfying.

Louis Koo in Once Upon A Time In Hong Kong. (Photo: Shaw Organisation)
Louis Koo in Once Upon A Time In Hong Kong. (Photo: Shaw Organisation)

Simply put, it is as though the criminals suddenly have a revelation and decide to stop their evildoings. They do not even put up a fight, but instead sit down comfortably with a drink or a cigarette in their hand, waiting for the ICAC to round them up. Given that the movie is written and directed by the well-known Wong Jing, the ending is quite a letdown.

However, Once Upon A Time In Hong Kong has a star-studded cast to keep its box office sales afloat. From protagonists to antagonists, all four stars— Louis Koo, Tony Leung Ka-fai, Francis Ng, and Lam Ka-tung — are top actors in Hong Kong. Even the supporting characters are portrayed by notable actors: Kent Cheng (better known as Fei Mao) and Philip Keung. Besides, you get to see all of them not only in action, but also in a 1970s retro look.

Once Upon A Time In Hong Kong is a typical Hong Kong action-crime film about corruption, but could have done better with its ending. Nonetheless, the strong cast is worth going to the theatres for.

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