It’s daunting that actor Matt Wu has only directed one feature film in his career. The ceremony of his 2016 crime drama, One Night Only, is nothing short of deserving and well-earned for its multiple award nominations and critical acclaim.
Featured performances by Aaron Kwok and Yang Zishan amplify the luminous nightlife of fictional Liberty City, a mecca for gambling in the region as we’re introduced to Gao Ye, a shameless gambling addict out of money, out of places to run, and out of time.
He’s eighty-thousand yuan in the red with a loanshark and nearly resigned to his fate when he meets Momo, presumably a prostitute who invites herself into his home much to his chagrin. Reluctant to accept her company at first, he decides to bide his time and utilize her for whatever cash she can spare, between eating out, and gambling whatever is left at the nearby casino.
With both seemingly at the end of their ropes and forced to rely on each other, the two embark on a picaresque adventure to make some cold hard cash fast. What ensues, however, is something much more, as the two are caught in the peril of back-to-back betting, from money, to their own lives. Between a fixed MMA fight, embittered gangsters, a madame scorned and a bittersweet family reunion, bodies are starting to stack, but this is only half the story.
Wu’s layered, thickening crime drama disseminates an emotive, compelling overture between family melodrama, thrilling action, tragedy and love as things unfold between Gao Ye and Momo. Their friendship teeters from uneasy, to playful, to intimate and ultimately revealing, with Yang delivering a promising mystique to her role that lends strongly to the film’s poignant, heartbreaking third act.
The director’s use of various plot devices and set pieces, from the toss of a coin to an abandoned home and an old black and white movie, embody a definitive air for what he brings to the table with One Night Only. The film is often stylishly shot, steadily paced and edited, and vibrantly colored, and while the script isn’t perfect, this neither hurts nor hinders the film’s touching message, asserting a remarkable and worthwhile few hours of your time. Day, or night.
One Night Only is now available in North America on DVD from Cheng Cheng Films.