Tuesday, December 15, 2009

448) Yesterday Once More (2004)

448) Yesterday Once More (2004) Dir: Johnnie To Not Yet Released Date Seen: December 14, 2009 Rating: 3.5/5

As an action choreographer, Johnnie To's sleek shoot-outs often feel a bit over-determined. As gorgeous and memorable as they can be, they lack the anarchic spirit of the more playful scenes of one-ups-manship that typically precede those highly-stylized bloodbaths. Like the gunfights they set up, these breezy displays of skill are all about showing off but they're more about gamesmanship than unmatched skill (cf. the soda can scene in The Mission that gets redone in Exiled or any of the pickpocket scenes in Sparrow). They have all the playfulness that we've come to associate with To's signature style and none of the dour posturing, suggesting that To would do well to focus on romantic comedies as they're all about flirtation and improv.

Yesterday Once More looks to fit that bill nicely: Mr and Mrs. Do (Andy Lau and Sammi Cheng) are affluent thieves that suddenly divorce and now compete for Mrs. Do's new beau's heirlooms. The Do's confrontations are usually more smug than not but that's because To's not accustomed to working at such a frenetic pace--Yesterday Once More is about as fast-and-loose as he's played it in a while. Scenes of competitive gambling at the track are fairly straight-forward staples of To's cinema. But once you get to the pair of sweaty, rolly-polly P.I.s that resemble Thompson & Thompson or an aborted heist that involves two teams of color-coded marathon runners, a dog and some furtive glances exchanged via binoculars, then you know you're no longer in To territory as we know it. That kind of humor is so silly that you'd expect it to crop up somewhere in Wong Jing's filmography (perhaps Tricky Brains?) but the formal restraint of these scenes, the kind that keeps them from completely bouncing off the walls, is all To. That's not a compliment: To is so afraid to let himself go, that his story takes an inspired bit of catty table-turning Mr. Do pulls on Mrs. Do and turns it into a serious new focus of the film. This is a film with a screenwriting credit shared by someone named "The Hermit," his or her first and only work, too. It shouldn't be played straight and yet, To does just that.

Note: I was initially bothered by Lau's mugging but then I realized that his abundance of confidence fits the part just fine. Cheng however has never left much of an impression on me. It's like she's coated in charisma-resistant teflon.

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