Even the "weakest" of John Woo's Hong Kong productions contain a style and a spark that are all but non-existent in his late-career American flicks.When you think of the frequent collaborations between action star Chow Yun-Fat and director John Woo (i.e. The Killer, Hard-Boiled, and A Better Tomorrow), your first thought would logically be of "high-end action mayhem of the coolest order" - and you'd be right. Those three movies alone (OK, please include A Better Tomorrow 2 on that list) have dazzled action fans the world over, and each has become known as a bona-fide Modern Action Classic.
But there's at least one Woo-Fat production that bypasses the hyper-kinetic action material (for the most part, anyway) in favor of a structure that instead feels a whole lot like a classic old Heist Comedy in the vein of The Pink Panther or The Italian Job. Toss in some great chases, a sweet little romance subplot and a trio of excellent lead performances, and you're looking at a John Woo flick that might not rank among his most chaotic, but is a perfectly entertaining diversion in its own right.
The plot sees a trio of lifelong pals (who have grown up to become a brilliant thieving team) who are enlisted for a near-impossible art heist and the myriad plot twists and double-crossings that synopsis implies. Since one of the 'gang' is a lovely lady, you can of course expect a few enjoyable complications relating to "Which guy will she end up with?"
Though Once a Thief clearly has other things on its mind besides wall-to-wall action, those who adore Woo's other films may find themselves shifting uncomfortably between the gunfights, but just like Die Hard is a whole lot different than, say, The Thomas Crown Affair - the focus here includes considerably more comedy and romance that you'd normally find in a John Woo / Chow Yun-Fat movie.The action-heavy John Woo flicks are obviously the most celebrated among the filmmaker's many fans, but anyone who already owns "The Killer" and "Hard-Boiled" will undoubtedly still find much to enjoy within "Once a Thief".