A romantic art-heist comedy, far lighter in tone than most of director John Woo's work, and in places much sillier. As kids, Chow Yun-fat, Cherie Chung, and Leslie Cheung (A Chinese Ghost Story) were starving street urchin... more »s together. They are rescued from the law and trained by a Fagin-like older crook, who transforms them into glossy international cat burglars. The best sections (especially the opening and closing heists) are as masterfully smooth as any action set pieces in the Woo canon. But the tone wavers alarmingly, from the sophisticated (Chow as Cary Grant) to the savage to the sentimental and back again, with a disastrous slapstick coda set in the states, in which the baby food hits the fan. The busy plotting distracts us from a strong theme: the struggle between good and bad father figures (the other is a stalwart cop played by Chu Kong) for the souls of these noble criminals. Not to be confused with the rather limp 1995 remake, produced by Woo for Canadian TV in 1995, with The X-Files' sinister Krycek, Nicholas Lea, surprisingly effective in the Chow part. --David Chute« less
"This movie didn't seem to know what kind of genre of movie it wanted to become. It started as a action thriller movie but gradually, it started to wander into a slapstick comedy. The plots were rather forgettable & at times, out of this world but the breathtaking scenes taken in Paris & Cannes, performances by those 3 main stars with solid supporting actors definitely worth the while to relive the magic of HK movie making. This movie enabled you to catch a glimpse of the other side of Chow Yuen Fatt ie. being funny. His versatility is what made him an international star today. If memory serves me rite, this would be Cherry's final movie before she was married to a businessman. How I wish she could stay longer in the movie industry as her performance was always a breath of fresh air aka. refreshing. Leslie Cheung hadn't come out of age then but his talent definitely showed thru. Highly recommended for a John Woo fan."
Beutiful images, slapstick, and bonafide Hong Kong action
Ping Lim | 02/04/1999
(4 out of 5 stars)
"John Woo mixes it up in "Once a Thief." There are some beautiful images and sequences as is to be expected from Woo and he's in true form here. The story is a little weak and the slapstick is almost too much (it's fine in & of itself, but it's almost like two different movies).Chow Yun Fat and Leslie Chung are great and Woo provides ample subtext to be going on under the rain of bullets. Not as stunning as "Hard Boiled" or as kinetically rivetting as "The Killer", it's still a good flick & fun to watch."
A Light-hearted and comedic side of John Woo
E. Nolan | FL, United States | 04/22/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is a definite change from the usual John Woo movies. It's a very light-hearted, comedic movie with a pinch of romance and of course action sequences. Chow Yun Fatt, Leslie Chueng and Cherie Chung are all wonderful in the movie, but it is Chow Yun Fatt who steals most of the scenes. The 3 have a great comradery and the viewer is let in on how their relationships are interwoven with flashbacks. The movie plot is one that is familiar and similar to the better known American version of the movie, but John Woo has made this his own with the addition of a splendid sub-plot and twist at the end. A very good fun movie, will leave you light-hearted and smiling at the end of it."
Caper Film Woo Style
David Baldwin | Philadelphia,PA USA | 12/06/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The film starts out breezy enough. Likable trio of art thiefs mastermind elaborate heists in Paris. Afterwards they toast their laurels and have a jolly good time. You almost forget you're watching a John Woo film. Never fear. Guns start ablazing. Things blow up real good. Bad guys eat lead. It's soon revealed that Joey(Chow Yun-Fat), Jim (Leslie Cheung), and Cherie(Cherie Leung) were raised by an evil father figure who taught them petty thievery at the threat of a caning or starvation. The three grow up to be master criminals employed by evil Daddy's thriving Hong Kong crime syndicate. Heavy stuff but Woo is in top form here juggling thrills and levity along with the film's darker themes. The film also contains enough clever twists and surprises to satisfy the more discerning viewer. Yun-Fat is in top form here as the devil-may-care Joey. Yun-Fat commands the screen as both comedian and action star. This may not be the equivalent of Woo's masterworks, "The Killer" and "Hard Boiled", but it is an impressive entry in the directors canon."
Another John Woo movie worth owning
S. Naimpally | Dallas, TX USA | 10/24/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Not as 'heavy' and full of action as many of Woo's other early films such as The Killer, Hardboiled, A Better Tommorrow etc. A bit of a change of pace for Woo and well done. Three street kids pull off a big heist.
Woo remade this film for TV with disastoruous results so make sure you are buying the one starring Chow Yun Fat."