One Last Dance (2006)
Written & directed by: Max Makowski
A Singaporean production headlined by a talent pool from Hong Kong, Taiwan and America, Brazilian-born writer/director Max Makowski's puzzle of a thriller puzzles not so much because of its fair intricacies but the filmmaking choices. It seems Makowski was trying out for the job of Quentin Tarantino and Wong Jing and long stretches of the film seems hellbent to sell it to the audience of the latter. At other times, Makowski showcases a strength for atmosphere, quiet moments and how to use a lead like Francis Ng to his utmost advantage. A conflicted but interesting product does equal memorable oddly enough. It's truly something connected to Hong Kong then.
Hired to track down the kidnappers of a wealthy man's son, assassin T (Francis Ng), who gets his tasks delivered in red envelopes through his mailbox, steps into a complex web of intrigue that has him not being able to control the situation as friend Ko (Joseph Quek) engages in his task to locate a character called Talat. He's found dead, he's put in briefcases the Italian mafia wants (the boss is played by Harvey Keitel in a two scene cameo) but one case (a piece of Talat) gets into the hands of Ko's waitress-sister Mae (Vivian Hsu) who's also someone T is slowly falling for. Trying to sort out the case is T's chess buddy and confidant, a police captain (Ti Lung)...
I remember one of the promos for the film that wasn't in Mandarin featured voice over from Francis Ng's T (who drinks tea regularly as well) but it's been dropped from the Cantonese audio here (but kept intact on the Mandarin track and in the subtitles) and it actually helps take One Last Dance quite a bit out of the swamp of pretentiousness. Makowski's images, when they work, speak well enough without explanatory/symbolic voice over about the colors of T's own, inner song. Again on the intention to mix the somber, emotionless, emotional and personal with "hilarity", it seems Makowski wants to tap into the satire of lowly henchmen in general being useless, dumb and highly juvenile. Coming mainly from Joseph Quek's Ko who is still a dramatic key for the narrative, there's plenty of bizarre, deadpan, loud humour that ISN'T registering particularly high. It's simply put very annoying the division Makowski takes his satire or personal portrayal of the various characters of the underworld. To boot, it's not interesting either the choice and it's evident early as it clashes with any scene featuring Francis Ng who manages to escape largely unharmed and uninterrupted by all this.
Some Quentin Tarantino-esque dialogue tangents about coffee (and it's so damn forced it's offensive and embarrassing) leads into a wonderfully subtle turn by Ng as the cool, calculating, clever, honorable, graceful, loyal and by trade emotionless hitman. Not giving way to any tired clichés because Makowski has Ng at his disposal (and he was Makowski's first choice for the role reportedly), Ng plays T with an efficiency that few can beat, especially when he's gliding calmly and quietly through the environment. He's dangerous, on top of his game and there's no background needed here. The drive on the contrary deals with an awakening of feelings of love or some form of infatuation. T is a master within his ring. He's awkward out of it, something Ng slides between back and forth with great skill. Watch and re-watch his scene with the kidnap victims and eventually what he does with the pieces of tape. Clearly director Makowski blossoms too in any section where he gets to point the camera onto his lead and it even applies to supporting actor Ti Lung. Because when these two characters and actors get to talk in a sitting or walking two-shot, it's simply movie magic where we as an audience are in it just to see great performers be comfortable, be relaxed, showcase chemistry and it's all done with no stylistic tricks or pretension. Clearly the two have some common juice left since 2000's Clean My Name, Mr Coroner!
Less successful outside of the comedy are some post-production visual effects to accentuate things as a happy cup of tea, the heart located on Francis Ng's gun and the computer generated blood looks downright embarrassing but the fairly complex twists and turns have us onboard. Despite having a problematic and unfunny character such as Ko being a catalyst for dramatic events and the issue of plot-logic when looking back probably is easily argued against, One Last Dance maintains a compelling grip on us the closer Francis Ng's gets to Vivian Hsu's late developing character and the farther he gets away from set assassin code. A poignant line about what happens when innocence is lost affects and even though development seems spotty (i.e. T and Mae barely know each other), it's a bond that is believable under the circumstances.
Extremely conflicted and making dramatic and comedic moods clash in a highly destructive away, Max Makowski does with One Last Dance what many Hong Kong filmmakers have done in the past; managing to deliver where it counts and in the parts where you're most adept. It doesn't make for a critics proof product (I can totally understand if anyone pans this) but One Last Dance makes fine use of what should work, including Francis Ng at the top of his game. It's an addition to a versatile career and a role we expected a honed performance out of... despite the clownish behaviour going on around it. We're puzzled, we disapprove AND approve.
Video: 2.32:1 non-anamorphic widescreen.
Audio: Cantonese Dolby Digital 2.0, Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1 and Mandarin Dolby Digital 2.0.
Subtitles: English and traditional Chinese.
Extras: The Trailer.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson