Max Makowski's One Last Dance is a puzzling film to review. Cleverly plotted and very well shot with a cast that includes one of Asia's finest character actors -- Francis Ng -- in the lead with one of North America's -- Harvey Keitel -- in a key cameo role, the film has agreat many strengths, strengths that Makowski bewilderingly undermines by giving the film a sharply schizophrenic spin. Yes, Ng is his usually fantastic self, playing his hitman character with a quiet subtlety and grace, but he seems to be in an entirely different film than the rest of the cast with every character not played by Ng -- with the possible exception of the police captain -- alternating wildly between slapstick potty humor and broad melodrama.
Ng is T, a legendary Singapore hitman who plys his trade in Singapore, his victims delivered to his mailbox in small red envelopes. He is the consumate professional, cool, calm, emotionall detached, and ruthless. If your name is contained within one of T's envelopes, you will die. No question. T's life is thrown into turmoil when a wealthy industrialist contacts him to hunt down and kill everyone involved in the kidnapping of his son, a kidnapping that T's friend Ko is somehow involved in. Throw in a gang of Italian mafioso, T's long term friendship with a local police captain, and his slowly blossoming love for Ko's sister and you have all tge ingrediants for a twisting, multi layered plot, one which the observant will quickly realize is playing out out of time sequence.
One Last Dance has two great strengths. Francis Ng is one of the great, unsung treasures of Asian film, a simply stellar character actor who seldom gets lead roles but never fails to impress and he plays T with a sort of quiet desperation, the desperation of a man who knows that he is on the path to ruin but who has simply lost either the desire to change route or belief that a change is possible. Ng is given good material to work with here, as well. Though the time sequence game has been played a lot lately Makowski plays it well, finding inventive and surprising ways to lock the pieces of his puzzle together. The man's a smart writer who knows how to work a familiar premise into a surprising form and that's a rare skill.
And Makowski's skill in some areas make his weakness in others all the more surprising and jarring. And while those weaknesses don't end with the character of Ko, they certainly spend an awful lot of time there. Ko is simply jarringly out of step with the rest of the film. He is crass and juvenile to a point that goes well beyond the limits normally afforded to a comic relief character and seriously damage the believability of the film's world. We're to believe that anybody anywhere takes this man seriously enough to hire him on as a gangster? Hardly. The humor of the film in general just feels jarring in general, the sort of thing that may play in a Stephen Chow comedy but which really has no place in a film that's also aiming to be a smart gangster drama. After all, how can you expect an audience to go from a sincere performance from Ng to jokes about pig orgasms and dog shit and back again without being jarred out of the film's world?
For the time being the only English friendly option to see the film is the recent DVD release from Singapore. The film comes with a letterboxed widescreen transfer with well translated English subtitles and no special features to speak of. The image quality is generally good but the print shows signs of minor wear. It's a curiosity piece more than anything else, a film whose strengths combines with the sheer wrongheadedness of its weaknesses make it a compelling failure.