I can picture some producer pitching Once A Gangster 飛砂風中轉 as follows
Let’s reunite Ekin Cheng 鄭伊健 and Jordan Chan 陳小春 from the Young And Dangerous series in a satire of the Hong Kong triad movie. This time, instead of plots to become the head of the gang, our heroes don’t want to become the new Godfather as it means police harassment and eventual jail time. We can sell this as Old And Not So Dangerous.
The film started its run today in Hong Kong. And I did have a good time – it was mostly funny. Most of the comedy points at the fact that most gangsters simply want to make more money which translates to more power and influence. The outdated model of gang elders electing a new leader is presented as both silly and not very democratic; like Johnny To’s 杜琪峰 Election movies, Once A Gangster also pokes fun at Hong Kong’s electoral system but in a more light-hearted fashion. Other running gags include a bumbling undercover cop named Yan (satirizing Tony Leung Chiu Wai’s character in Infernal Affairs, which was co-directed by Alan Mak 麥兆輝, the producer of this film) and Swallow’s (Ekin Cheng character) desire to study Economics at the University of Hong Kong instead of becoming gang head.
Like most comedies I see, the makers of the film fail to make the premise and gags in Once A Gangster work over a feature-length film. There are moments in the middle part of the film where Once A Gangster is pretty much a straight forward gangster movie and not much of a satire. And Candice Yu’s 余安安 grating performance as Swallow’s mother annoyed the hell out of me – and let me say this, I was a great fan of Candice Yu when she was young (i.e. back in her television days with RTV). She looked real cute back then.
As a matter of interest to film buffs, Once A Gangster was co-scripted by Chapman To 杜文澤.
In concluding, I would recommend Once A Gangster, but would hesitate calling it a great movie.