John Woo took a breather from his normal bloody thrillers to make this questionable romantic action comedy in 1991. The story focuses on three orphans who grew up under the tutelage of wealthy crime boss and a kindly police officer and train as thieves.
The film opens with a scene of the three swearing that the heist they are about to undertake will be their last. With a myriad of high tech thieving methods, they steal prized paintings around Europe. Chow Yun-Fat, Leslie Cheung, and Cherie Chung play the siblings with a light hearted but serious intensity portraying some of the tougher assignments that the thieves must have had to undertake along the way. There is a constant reminder of the theft of a mysterious "cursed" painting and how its obsession affects the trio, which moves the plot along in a number of places.
Their crime boss father double crosses them with a painting, so they decide to pay him back. As you can expect from Chow Yun-Fat and Leslie Cheung, there is gunfights, punch ups and plenty of slapstick comedy. Its hard to say if it was just me , or if Chow Yun-Fat does not fully engage in a romantic role. In some of the scenes where he was meant to be tender and caring, it appeared he’d rather be slicing something up with a machete or kicking some serious butt. Perhaps its just me?
Again, the music score can be unsettling, but the set ups for the burglaries easily make up for that.
Once a Thief is an exhilarating action-packed film with plenty of comedy and shades of sappy romance. It's got everything - suspense, gun-fights and laughs. A passable heist movie which could be used as an introduction to Woos other works - or simply because you love Chow Yun-Fat. The pair always deliver an entertaining film, and although not on the same level as some of the later ones, its once not to pass up ether.
Theatrical Poster via Wiki