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One Last Dance
cast: Francis Ng, Ti Lung, Harvey Keitel, Joseph Quek, and Vivian Hsu

director: Max Makowski

110 minutes (18) 2005
widescreen ratio 1.78:1
Tartan Asia Extreme DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Alasdair Stuart
T (Francis Ng) is a hitman who has survived and, indeed, thrived in his chosen profession by being smarter, more careful and more thoughtful than his targets or his competitors. He's quiet, almost bookish and his life sits in the gap between the human and the inhuman, the criminal and the normal. He has a feckless best friend Ko (Joseph Quek), a very odd friendship with the Chief of Police (Ti Lung) and is falling for Mae, Ko's sister (Vivian Hsu).

But when he's ordered to find and kill the men responsible for the kidnapping of a millionaire's son, T finds himself in over his head. Ko may be involved, the mafia certainly are, and before long it becomes clear that the clearheaded hitman is going to need all his vaunted skill to survive.

This is, superficially, pretty standard gangland fare but there are some nice touches that raise the bar significantly higher. For a start, the top-drawer cast for the most part turn in excellent work. Ng's quiet, almost aesthetic hitman is particularly good and he's able to draw sympathy from the viewer with nothing more than a look or a slight pause. This is a slight character given tremendous depth and sympathy by a superb actor and the film is worth seeing for him alone. However, several other cast members impress with Quek's relentlessly OTT Ko providing comic relief, Hsu's quiet, sincere dignity anchoring her scenes with Ng, and Keitel clearly enjoying himself as an unusually cultured mobster.

However, what really stands out here is the direction. Max Makowski's work, with one notable exception, manages to raise the story instead of burying it, and there's one sequence in particular, which is breathtaking. T has tracked his latest target to a subway station late at night and watches the man fail to make it onto a train. In a scene which is little more than Ng, standing against a pillar, Makowski draws us into T's mind, makes us watch the security cameras just as he is, gives us his view of the world. Then, in a series of elegant, minimalist movements, T crosses six cameras fields of view without being spotted, kills his subject and leaves. It's an incredible moment, revisited later and one of the best pieces of action direction this reviewer has seen in a very long time.

One Last Dance isn't groundbreaking and actually has some pretty serious problems, not the least of which is the wildly variable tone and some ill-advised CGI on the blood spatter from T's victims. However, if you can put this to one side the film is a quiet, oddly funny meditation on the hitman's life, with a great central performance from Ng. Not a great film, but a worthy investment of time for fans of the genre.
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