One Nite in Mongkok

Competent cops vs. gangster outing, the exact fuss over which I fail to comprehend.

Released in 2004, certified UK-15. Reviewed on 09 Oct 2005 by Scott Morris
One Nite In Mongkok image

Fawned over at the last HK film awards, netting 'Derek' Yee Tung-Sing two awards for his dual screenplay / directorial duties, it's fair to say we'd been anticipating One Nite in Mongkok (or Wong gok hak yauhort to give its Sunday name, or One Night in Mongkok as it's sometimes referred to, or Mickey Rooney, as it's infrequently referred to) as one of those high octane numbers that have been in short supply of late. Sadly, in keeping with the general theme of movies this year it's turned out to be another competent and unremarkable outing in what I think we may have to label "The Year of Mediocrity".

The densely populated area of Mongkok has more than it's fair share of crime, rival gangs vying for control of everything from street hustling to drug trafficking. Detective Milo (Alex Fong) and his squad try to maintain some level of control, or at least maintain the balance between the two main gangs. The nonaggression pact that the gangs maintain seems to be about to degrade into all out street warfare after the death of a leader's son at the hands of the other bunch. In retaliation, the first bunch (let's pretend that the names of these people aren't too important for the moment, because I've forgotten them) get local fence Liu (Lam Suet) to organise the assassination of the leader of the other bunch.

This is sort of thing that started the first World War, so it's no surprise that after getting wind of this from an informant Milo and his squad, including trigger happy rookie Ben (Anson Leung) and brotherly Brandon (Kar Lok Chin) decide to pull out all available stops to take the would-be hitman down. Said would be hitman Lai Fu (Daniel Wu) has just arrived in Mongkok, but quickly falls in with hooker-with-contractually-obligated-heart-of-gold Dan (Cecilia Cheung). They're from the same village. Spooky. The cops, in a genre defying bit of competence, find out that Liu's arranged the hit and swoop in use him to capture Lai Fu. Lai Fu's no dummy, and figures out something's gone awry. A game of cat 'n' mouse ensues.

One Nite In Mongkok image

So far, so familiar. It is at this point we should be going "Ah, but it does this, and that, and some other stuff, and it's fabby". Note the silence. I'm sure I must be missing something, but there's nothing much in here that's not been done umpteen times before. Pointing to Lai Fu's qualms and reasons for going through with his contract or the odd moment where Dan strays briefly onto a slightly more believable, morally less straight and narrow path before snapping back into genotype might have cut the mustard as revolutionary a few years back, but these days it's not enough to ensure praise.

The problem I'm having is caring much about anyone in the film, or any of their actions. In fact, the more I sit typing about this the more I'm questioning my own judgment. Apart from the vague familiarity of a plot that's less than individual, there's not much I can point at in One Nite in Mongkok and say it's a poor film because of factor X. Consistently, it's a competent, fairly well told, fairly kinetic, fairly interesting, fairly decent story that's fairly decently done.

None of which sounds particularly enthusiastic, you'll note. Much as there's nothing I can point at to say it's bad, I can't think of a damn thing to point at to say it's particularly good, or worthy of your attention. Yes, it's decent enough. It's a good bit more action packed than recent Western Cop v Thug dramas, if that counts for anything, but it's hardly a return to a John Woo-esque heyday.

Annoyingly, it's this sort of film that make me wonder if I've just seen too many films over too short a timespan and that everything's merging together in some gestalt mess inside my head. However, until I'm officially sectioned and given the padded wallpaper treatment I'll have to chalk this as just another competent, average, mediocre film released in a year packed to the gunnels with competent, average, mediocre films. It's not the first time we've been opposed to general thinking on a film's worth and I doubt it'll be the last time. Please forward any accusations of point missing to the usual address - this time I'm genuinely interested in what's supposed to be so good about this flick.

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 3/5 TippyMarks.

Tung-Shing Yee
Cast list:
Cecilia Cheung (Dan)
Daniel Wu (Lai Fu)
Alex Fong (Milo)
Anson Leung (Ben)
Kar Lok Chin (Brandon)
Lam Suet (Liu)