In Mongkok, Hong Kong’s Soho and, as the movie says, ‘the most densely populated area on earth’, petty gangland rivalries flare up in an act of stupid violence. Now, one boss wants another taken out and hires a killer on the cheap - first-timer Lai Fu, a Chinese mainlander. Lai Fu (Daniel Wu) has another reason to come to Mongkok, to find the girlfriend lost to the Mongkok underworld. With plucky hooker Dan Dan (Cecilia Cheung) as a guide to the streets, Lai Fu tries to tries to tail the target and track the girl. But the cops have been tipped off and want to head off the killer before the feud really erupts. In one night in Mongkok, on Christmas Eve, it will all come to a head.
Or at least that’s what you’d hope. But writer-director (and longstanding Hong Kong actor) Derek Yee takes his own sweet time, drifting from Lai Fu to the bunch of amoral cops on his tail. A loosely fragile rapport is built between Wu and Cheung, while the police team follows dead-end leads, covering up a shoot-to-kill mistake and relying on coincidence and informants to lead them to their man. Deliberately episodic, Mongkok is as random as the sporadic violence which breaks out, messily, along the way. Yee invests it all with an edgy camera-work which adds to the sense of inevitable foreboding. But long before the end, you’ve given up caring for any of the characters who seem to deserve whatever fate awaits them.
Which is a shame as American-Chinese actor Daniel Wu is an engaging young performer often seen adding quality to Hong Kong actioners (Purple Storm, AD2000, Jackie Chan’s New Police Story) than dismal dramas like this.
Mongkok is never sure what it wants to be. Hinting at the one-night scenarios of Lost in Translation and Collateral, it has moments of listless comedy and scenes of bloody violence. But it’s not as gripping as either of these movies and slower than both. Nor does it add anything to the many tragi-dramas about Hong Kong’s gangland scene such as the Young and Dangerous films or any of Andy Lau’s frequent forays. Nor is it a thriller, being devoid of the requisite thrills. In the end, it’s a character-study, illuminating the low-lives and sad lives of people working on either side of the law. But the uneven pace and sullen acting from most make it a heavy-going experience for the audience.
Sadly, One Night in Mongkok is not really worth one night in Mongkok, Oxford or anywhere else.