One Last Dance Review

Everything I read about One Last Dance prior to watching it turned out to be incorrect or misleading. "It's a jigsaw puzzle of a film!" No, really it's not. The back of the case proclaims, "[w]ildly entertaining, violent and stylish." No, no, sort of. "A true original," promises a quote attributed to Screen International on the DVD cover. Not at all. "Suitable only for persons 15 years and over - contains strong violence and sex references." I wish! I kept waiting for any of these and other proclamations to fulfill themselves, but it just never happened. One Last Dance is actually a decent enough movie, comparatively harmless if you're looking to scratch that Hong Kong gangster/assassin itch. Just don't expect anything particularly special. The film stars Francis Ng (Exiled) as T, a solitary and cold assassin (is there any other kind in film?) who's embroiled in a job requiring the elimination of men who kidnapped a millionaire's son. For reasons only understandable in movies, T has a friend and associate named Ko (Joseph Quek) who's brash, young and apparently unable to take much of anything seriously. T also, still improbably, is good friends with a police captain (Ti Lung) who ends up investigating a key crime in the film. Meanwhile, T very suddenly takes a romantic interest in Ko's sister Mae (Vivian Hsu) and Harvey Keitel pops up for maybe five minutes as a mafia boss. Aside from several red envelopes, I think that about covers the basics of the plot. Writer and director Max Makowski must be an interesting guy, born in Brazil and, according to him, growing up in England, the Phillippines, Peru, Bahrain, Hong Kong, USA, Cuba, and Germany before making his current home of Hong Kong. That's a nice passport full of pretty stamps, but I'm not sure how much of his background influenced One Last Dance. The story is jumpy and doesn't entirely work. It tries to use the trick of showing us something at the beginning that makes zero sense and then having the same scene pop back up near the end of the film. I'm not really buying it though. It becomes a gimmick when there's absolutely no reason to use such a device. Fractured and out-of-order storylines have been abused so often that viewers are rightfully skeptical of non-linear storytelling. Here it's used to draw attention in an attempt to win kudos the movie can't earn honestly. Thankfully, it doesn't entirely overwhelm things.

Makowski has an abundance of style and ambition. Those qualities and Ng's excellent performance are what make One Last Dance at the very least watchable, if not recommendable. The plot is a bit of a lost cause, meandering around without much purpose or explanation. The characters, save for T, are either annoying or almost ridiculously underdeveloped. (Mae has a criminal record, is raped offscreen, and serves drinks to bar patrons.) The action scenes are completely uneven and far too few to make much of an impact. Fake blood is replaced by obviously phony CGI in the continually stylised world created by Makowski. The pinging plot is actually fairly linear once it gets going, but still rather ordinary and uninspired. Tone shifts wildly from attempts at humour that border on parody to other scenes that take themeslves far too seriously. If you enjoy film, though, there should always be a silver lining and there's a bold one here. Makowski's ambition frequently overshoots his material, but, on one or two occasions, it's completely on target and becomes a sight to behold. He tries too many tricks for his own good (including look-at-me cutting), but, clearly, Makowski is a capable director (though perhaps one in need of a new writer) who is willing to play with his material enough to make things interesting. He's reportedly been tapped to helm the feature adaptation of the "Kung Fu" television series and, based on his work here, I think there's potential there if it's reined in to the point of keeping substance over style. Otherwise, One Last Dance is a reasonably enjoyable movie that's more of a "flick" than a "film" despite its many flaws. I still haven't any idea why Harvey Keitel shows up or why we needed the non-linear attempts to make the movie seem smarter than it is, but fans of assassin films might find something worth watching as long as they don't go in expecting wall-to-wall bloodshed.

The Disc

The R2 PAL DVD of One Last Dance appears to be transferred progressively, but is otherwise mostly disappointing. Presented in anamorphic widescreen, the aspect ratio is listed as 2.35:1, but the sides are slightly pillarboxed and the actual ratio is something closer to 2.23:1. Video quality is definitely acceptable, though a little problematic. Marred by edge enhancement, an instance of print damage and another where the image briefly jumps out of frame, there are several technical issues in Tartan's presentation. Even though close-ups show good detail, images are mostly lacking in sharpness and display an abundance of grain. It seems that the captures look much better than how the film played on my 42" screen so, obviously, many of these problems might not be as noticeable on smaller monitors. The good news is that despite being a pretty drab film, dominated by dark and metallic colours, the few reds and yellows look bright enough and blacks are appropriately deep. Still, it's a decidedly unimpressive effort overall by Tartan and below standards usually expected for movies this recent. Audio is similarly bland. Though there are three separate tracks, all in Mandarin, the Dolby Digital 2.0, 5.1 and DTS 5.1 all sound very similar. The DD 2.0 track is, predictably, lower in volume than the other two, but otherwise there's little difference. Both the DD 5.1 and the DTS option sound wholly unremarkable and fail to utilise the rear channels to any effect. You expect gunshots to make their presence known back there, but it just doesn't happen. Another odd occurrence is at roughly the 89-minute mark, when a front speaker, left I believe, opens up like it had been stifled the whole time. This occurs on all three audio tracks. A final complaint with the audio is that the actors have clearly been dubbed and their mouth movements do not match up to what we hear. Makowski mentioned in an interview that he insisted on making the movie in Cantonese, but here we have Mandarin being spoken (aside from most of Keitel's dialogue) so I'm guessing that's the reason for the discrepancy. Regardless, it's distracting. Subtitles are white in colour, removable, and in English only. There are mistakes here and there, but they're mostly accurate.Extras are limited to a non-anamorphic theatrical trailer and four pages worth of liner notes with an essay and chapter listings. The essay seems so unhealthily in love with the film that it's mindboggling to wonder what exactly the author was watching and how many movies, genre or otherwise, he's seen. A Tartan newsletter/catalogue that unfolds into a poster for P2 was also included in my copy.

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