One Night Only (China, 2016)

Gao Ye (Aaron Kwok) is a gambling addict deeply in debt with local loan sharks. When a sex worker named Mo Mo (Yang Zishan) turns up at his hotel door, he soon sees it as an opportunity to defraud her of her money and use it to win back his own. A series of mishaps and double-crosses, however, send both of them on the run – and a tentative romance begins to develop.

Matt Wu’s romantic crime film One Night Only is a frantic, rocket-propelled combination of tropes, traditions and stereotypes. In the main they have well worn out their welcome, and this particular effort is in no position to change that situation. There are a lot of influences leaning on the film, informing its fairly haphazard and chaotic narrative, and pushing somewhere into a genre no-man’s-land of comedy, drama, heartbreak, and thrills. Some elements work reasonably well, others stumble and fall, and a few key moments seem doomed from conception. On the whole, it is wildly uneven and difficult to recommend without a shopping list of caveats.

Kwok always brings a certain degree of charisma and screen appeal to his roles, no matter of the screenplay quality. He does so here, making Gao Ye mostly charming and likable despite his criminal actions and untrustworthy behaviour. Yang achieves something similar with Mo Mo, although her natural sweetness does require the script to downplay the reality of sex work. Together they work remarkably well, with an easy chemistry and a watchable quality. Ardent fans of either actor will likely find plenty to enjoy.

When the film gets Mo Mo and Gao alone together, which is does every few minutes or so throughout, there is a noted upswing in quality. The easy repartee between the leads is engaging and pleasant, and develops their characters and back stories in an addictive manner. In these intermittent segues the film is a pleasant watch. The personalities spark against each other and go a long way to making an overnight romance feels a little believable for once. Fleshing out the back stories works well, and helps the audience relate more and more to the protagonists. Gao’s is drip-fed throughout the film. Mo Mo’s are largely held back to the third act, for reasons that are made clear at the time – they are most probably the film’s best element, all things considered.

Once the characters step back out into the mean streets of a generic Southeast Asian city (it was shot on location in Bangkok), the laid-back, charming quality of those two-hand scenes fall away. A fairly generic and silly action film is really all that gets left behind, and there are already more than enough of those movies out there. Andy On and Jack Kao are saddled with fairly rote and unimaginative villains, and struggle to build particularly entertaining performances on what little the screenplay gives them.

The film has a glossy, colourful look that does catch the eye, while the plot races through 100 minutes without ever slowing down and trying the viewer’s patience. In the final analysis, however, it is impossible to escape the fact that One Night Only is only a competent film and never a particularly good one. It never manages to excel in any respect. There is enough here to suggest that its director, Taiwanese actor Wu in his debut outing behind the camera, will produce better films in the future. This first attempt does not quite make the grade. It is a pile of elements, some good and some bad, gathered together into a disappointing, hopelessly uneven whole.