Court order lifts mundane piece into limelight
In today's lacklustre film market, a gangster picture like Life Will Never Be Twice might not have caused too many ripples - until the fictionalised version of the life and crimes of the notorious Yip Kai-foon was banned.
The film had been heavily advertised with posters around town, and was shown at the usual Saturday midnight and Sunday preview screenings. A few days later, Yip's lawyers sought an injunction, claiming the film would prove prejudicial to the trial. The court agreed, and Life Will Never Be Twice is now in cinematic limbo.
But it is sure to be released eventually, and if the trial proves sensational, producers Chan Chi-ming and Chan Chi-sun may make a killing.
Meanwhile, the court order has led to more-than-usual curiosity about Life Will Never Be Twice, whose Chinese title, 'Criminal Number One', more accurately sums up the protagonist.
The film opens with the usual disclaimer, that all characters are fictitious and any semblance to reality is a mere coincidence. Not that any movie-goers will mistake the film with reality, but neither will they have any doubts it is a highly romanticised 'interpretation' of the rise and fall of a real Hong Kong gangster.
Instead of calling him Yip Kai-foon, the movie's outlaw is dubbed 'Yip Foon' - although in one or two spots the film-makers seem to forget this and refer to the criminal by his real name.
Simon Yam Tat-wah adds another based-on-fact crazed killer role to a long resume that includes the butchering taxi driver of Doctor Lamb.
As is the case with the vast majority of Yam's roles, he is hampered by a script that allows him little opportunity to do more than scratch the surface of what is surely a complex character.
As an exploitation piece extolling the derring-do of a felon, Life Will Never Be Twice is neither better nor worse than scores of 'heroic gangster pictures' produced in the late 1980s when that genre was king.
Director Billy Chung Siu-hung has done a competent job. There are a few exciting action scenes, like Yip's escape from prison. He leaps from the roof to a dangerous multi-storey fall, hanging on to the flag pole's Union Jack for dear life.
No political comment is intended, but with the handover less than a year away, it is fun to read messages into everything.
The robberies by Yip and his gang are presented in a typically larger-than-life manner. The gang members are cruel, vicious, and the dregs of society - but they are so cool. Yip's partner, Wo Chai, is competently played by Roy Cheung Yiu-yeung, one of the more under-rated actors in Hong Kong.
Anita Lee Yuen-wah is wasted as Yip's girlfriend, a 'bitch in heat' role she tries to inject with some personality.
Most of the other roles are stereotypical. With a running time of less than 90 minutes, the film-makers seem to feel a need to pad. More annoying is the attempt to copy a Natural Born Killers technique, with some shots and sequences repeated at different speeds and colour schemes - to no noticeable effect, except to further slow the movie down.
The film shows a grudging respect for Yip. His fall from grace has little to do with the killing and robbing, but the increasing paranoia that eventually causes him to turn on his trusted associates. That is his ultimate crime. Otherwise, he leads an attractive life on the lam, hiding out in a five-star hotel with a harbour view, watching television specials about himself and seeing his face gracing the covers of numerous tabloids. Not bad for a simple country lad without many prospects for advancement.
This is a movie whose off-screen story and colourful personnel may prove more fascinating. A few years ago, one producer was involved in a much-publicised contretemps with a rival film company. During the production of Life Will Never Be Twice, police raided the processing lab and confiscated footage of one scene that they claimed was shot without the proper permits.
And now the picture has been banned. It is the stuff that movies are made of, and a film version of the behind-the-scenes intrigues is not beyond the realm of possibility - once the Yip trial is completed and the ban on Life Will Never Be Twice lifted.
Life Will Never Be Twice coming to the Mandarin circuit