Monday, July 18, 2016

One Night Only: There’s Always Something Left to Lose

Hong Kong cinema gave the world Ko Chun, the Mr. Lucky who can’t lose in the God of Gamblers/From Vegas to Macao franchises. Now Taiwan offers up a corrective in this new Chinese co-production. Gao Ye once had wealth and social position, but he lost it all and kept on losing. He will try to win back some redemption during a long dark night of the soul, but the game is rigged against him in Matt Wu’s One Night Only (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

The audience will know within seconds Gao Ye has seen the inside of a prison cell and has some nasty credits on his case. At this point, he doesn’t much care. Being cashless, he is rather surprised when an attractive prostitute loudly knocks on his door, expecting to do business. Unable to shake the strangely innocent Momo, Gao Ye convinces her to stake him instead. That works out about as well as we expect. Thus begins a series of nocturnal misadventures in the tradition of Scorsese’s After Hours (a lesser work in his filmography), until things take a radically tragic turn.

In fact, that is when the film really starts getting good. Frankly, the first act is a bit of a slog, focusing on Gao Ye’s jerkheel behavior. Yet, Wu and screenwriter Ren Peng also lay the groundwork for future payoffs at this time. Of course, that also means the second act will get pretty darn dark, taking us through the world of indentured prostitution and underground cage-fighting. Still, it crescendos with a romantic crescendo worthy of Camille that miraculously ties up all the suspicious loose ends lying about.

Yang Zishan (who just so happens to be married to Wu) really breaks out of her rom-com So Young/20 Once Again pigeon-holing as the relentlessly sad yet hopeful Momo. This film just wouldn’t work without her. Of course, Aaron Kwok is plenty believable as the dissolute Gao Ye, but he also turns on the star wattage for the big redemptive moments. For extra added heartache, Hao Lei is deeply compelling as Gao Y’s long suffering wife, seen in flashbacks.

Although set in a fictional, gaming-inspired city, One Night Only practically reeks of low life atmosphere. Cinematographer Charlie Lam takes full advantage of all the neon to give it a stylishly urban noir look. It is the sort of film you have to stick with through a long set-up, but it is ultimately worth it. Recommended for those who enjoy gambling dramas and tearjerkers, One Night Only opens this Friday (7/22) in New York, at the AMC Empire.