Chiu Sin-Hang’s One Second Champion sets itself right into an intro flashback where we meet a young Chow Tin-yang, a boy whose life, for all we know, is a miracle following a harrowing birthnight in which he was braindead for exactly one second before revival. Little would Chow know that this one inkling in time would grant him a sixth sense, giving him a second of foresight if he concentrates hard enough, and despite his own gambling-addicted father’s shameful disapproval of its lack of expediency, the young and idealistic Chow, then TV-famous for his unique abilities, remains hopeful that he’ll be able to explore and apply them to their fullest potential.
Fast forward some two decades later and Chow (Endy Chow) is a beleagured, down-and-out single father stuck working in a bar under an employer dealing with his own marital angst. As if being indebted to gangsters for his own gambling habits wasn’t enough, he’s also single father whose wife left him for another man, and is currently struggling to save up surgery money for his hearing-impaired son, Chi-Leung (Hung Cheuk-lok), who can’t seem to catch a break from his bullish peers at school. Cue up-and-coming boxer Yip Chi-Shun (Chiu Sin-Hang), eager to help build a name for the boxing gym in the studio he shares with cousin and Smile-Yoga instructor, Yiu (Lin MinChen), and the chance arrival of the very gangsters Chow happens to owe, with Yip effectively catching Chow in the act as he dodges through the goons and manages to survive the attack roughly unscathed.
Yip starts pursuing a reluctant Chow forthwith as a potential boxing partner to help train for the championship. Trouble is, well, now Chow is out of a job, and just in time to take up Yip’s offer, Chow’s newest journey begins as a sparring partner in Yip’s corner, only it’s a matter of time before Yip’s own interpersonal nightmare scenario begins manifesting during an important match, and leaving Chow no choice but to take up the gloves during an exhibition bout. His renewed sense of purpose and the reignited spark of inspiration in Chi-Leung’s eyes aside, of course, Chow’s seldom-known secret becomes a public affair, long since his heyday in child stardom as the “One Second Wonder”, now leaving him subject to the interpolitical woes of boxing executives looking to break Chow’s winning stride.
Seemingly at the end of their rope, an opportunistic fight promoter strikes while the iron is hot, managing to reel Chow and Yip in for a major bout with his own client and current champion, Joe (Chanon Santinatornkul), still fresh with brooding as he looks to maintain his status, even after killing his last opponent. What remains to be seen is how long Chow can hold out when near-tragedy strikes, and all Chow has ever had going for him since his tainted boyhood – his ability to see one second into the future – suddenly disappears, forcing him to rethink his future as a father, as well as his once-winning strategy if he’s to go the distance with an elite boxer with almost no compunction for taking the other guy’s head clean off.
Just short of being a fully grounded take on the boxing drama, Chiu’s somewhat run-of-the-mill One Second Champion moreso hands viewers a modest mix of gritty drama and family comedy, with a tiny spritz of sci-fi. The prevalence of Chow’s powers is often met with skepticism given that he’d grown into believing that a second wouldn’t ever be long enough to make a real difference in the world. That doesn’t stop him from the occasional bet with bar patrons where he can score a few easy hundred bucks, characteristic of his gambling addiction, of course.
Interestingly, it’s a certain moment in the film that gets him starting to believe just a little more, and I suspect it’s the moment Chi-Leung finds him in the gym for the first time. Interesting question though, is if whether or not Chow applied his foresight. Either way, there’s a change in Chow that gradually starts to show as the film moves forward. The change is about as visibly physical as it is mental, and it’s an inspiring display to observe.
Chiu’s involvement here also sees him playing the supporting role of Yip whose optimism toward maintaining the family name and his boxing gym doesn’t go unchallenged. Yip’s definitely got some demons that eventually reveal themselves, though they’re more impactful on his health than his character as a person in service to our protagonist, and it doesn’t serve detrimental to his character or the film’s own progression.
Harry Ng’s score plays off handsomely to the film’s underdog-on-the-comeback tone in the story, particularly the music during the training montage midway in the film, which sort of boasts some pretty cool My Hero Academia vibes. The clairvoyant moments are nicely woven into the action and drama throughout, though at some points you get the feeling of its comparison to a certain 2011 independent action thriller starring and directed by Eric Jacobus – similar conceptual action approach, though way, WAY different in premise, execution, and especially energy. The action, coordinated by Leung Pok Yan, has some impressive oners, and is well-directed throughout.
Chiu’s starring/directing capacity here isn’t a shortsighted one. It’s a humble low budget effect that goes big when it can, and it’s never too big to handle, and offers an ample roster of lead characters, even a few you might really dislike along the way who otherwise move the drama forward. One Second Champion doesn’t go too far out of its way to be a preachy parable either; Things like focusing on the importance of living in the moment, mentions of alternate universes and even a mildly burgeoning romantic connection between Chow and Yiu fluctuate differently in the film’s delivery, but the residual effect remains the same – a consistently motivational redemption journey right down to the final round.
Native New Yorker. Lover of all things pizza, chocolate, pets, and good friends. Karaoke hero. Left of center. Survivor. Fond supporter of cult, obscure and independent cinema - especially fond of Asian movies and global action cinema. Author of the bi-weekly Hit List. Founder and editor of Film Combat Syndicate. Still, very much, only human.