Okay, it must be said that the plot is fairly simple, and apparently cobbled together from a variety of sources: we get two boys raised as thieves by a cruel foster father, who grow up, meet a beautiful girl that they both fall in love with; her father is a kind cop who covers for them occasionally and tries to steer them on the path to righteousness. Meanwhile, what is to be their last job is a set-up, and one thief is apparently killed, leaving the other free to marry the girl; all goes well until the “dead” thief surfaces again.
Describing it like that doesn’t make the film sound at all interesting. But there’s more to a movie than plot, indeed there is. For anyone who cares, there is the director: in this case John Woo, which doesn’t cut any ice with me, but might appeal to some. More importantly, there are the three stars and several co-stars, who are so inordinately talented that they could act out the phone book and keep us amused. Leslie Cheung, playing the less outgoing of the pair, could charm the pants off anything capable of wearing pants. Cherie Chung’s flashing eyes and ebullient spirit make her amusing and attractive, two attributes that don’t often go together. And the final member of the triumvirate, Chow Yun Fat, is capable of wooing entire cities with his lazy grin and boyish exuberance. Paul Chu offers us his genial good-father face, while Kenneth Tsang flexes his veteran bad-guy muscles as the Fagin-like father.
In addition, I suppose, some credit (however grudging on my part) must go to the director for selecting the flavour of this jaunt. After all, the same story could be presented in a number of ways, such as violent triad drama, melodrama, tragedy, comic farce, whatever. The flavour here is light and zesty: it feels like it should come from the sixties, where the good guys are cool, the art is valuable, and the bad guys are buffoons. The style of the thieves is rococo: all backflips and flourishes and formal wear. These are not blokes who break into your house and nick your telly, these are gentlemen who honour a gentlemen’s code, and who apparently consider the execution of the theft as much as work of art as the object they are stealing.
The film has a flash and bravado that leaves you wanting to dress up in evening clothes and go steal something, probably unsuccessfully in my case, given that there are no famous paintings or diamond necklaces in the vicinity. But if there were any such, I’m convinced that Leslie, Fat-gor and Cherie would not only find them, but steal them from their boobytrapped stronghold and ride into the sunset in a convertible, laughing all the way.