During the two years between Broken Arrow and Hard Target, director John Woo was involved in two dead end projects,Shadow War at Universal and Tears of the Sun at Fox.Woo worked one year and eight months on these two aborted projects whilst directing Once A Thief TV Pilot. Developed as a pilot to an ongoing series by Alliance TV Canadian Network, Woo took his original concept of highly-skilled martial arts theives and transformed into a potential TV series.Woo's intentions were clear: to develop a TV series and provide an opportunity for new talents to direct and star in this feature. John Woo directed the TV series and remained onboard as executive producer of the TV series despite initially expressing interest in directing some of the episodes as well. The TV series ran for one season and was discontinued after that.
Set against the pulsating neon of Hong Kong,Once A Thief begins with a daring heist by three smart and sexy theives. Li Ann(Sandrine Holt), Michael (Michael Wong) and Mac(Ivan Sergei) has been raised as siblings by a powerful Hong Kong mobster and are now the main operatives of his criminal empire. When Li Ann decides to flee the country with lover Mac and escaped her arranged marriage to Michael, the couple finds themselves entangled in a complex web of double-crosses,revenge and murder.
I'm trying to think of something good to say about the US version of Once A Thief but the truth is, I can't. Not when it doesn't live up to the original Hong Kong version whether it's in terms of action or comedy. If you thought the action in the original HK one was pretty mild, the action in the UK version is virtually no-existent. In fact, in the few action sequences of the film, the final was executed pretty bad. You have all the excitement build up with the intense three-person stand-out but finally, the shoot-out would prove to disappoint. I can hardly see who is shooting who and there was lots of chaos in the background like explosions to complicate the matter. Maybe it's just John Woo's idea to reduce the violent as this way you really can't keep count of the dead-count. In comparisons to the original Hong Kong, I would have to say that I prefer the HK version much better. First of all, the leads for the Hong Kong version were far more talented especially Chow Yun Fat who puts Ivan Sergei to shame as the two played pretty similar characters: care-free and happy-go-lucky. Chow comes on as a natural and comical while Ivan ends up looking like a jerk most of the time. The action for both films were pretty similar, in fact John Woo staged a heist in the US version directly taken from the HK one. In that particular scene, Victor and Mac hangs dangerously on a chandelier from the electrocuted floor while trying to steal a painting from the wall across.
Not one of Woo's best efforts but still worth catching, especially if you intend on following the the TV series.