MOVIE REVIEW : ‘Once a Cop’ Long on Action, Short on Love


As the credits unroll for Stanley Tong’s lively martial arts action picture “Once a Cop” (at the Monica 4-Plex), we’re shown why Yang Kin-Wah (Michelle Khan) is so richly deserving of the highest medal awarded by the Beijing police department. In a display of breath-taking bravado, she stages a daring rescue of an important Japanese government official, held hostage in the top floor of a skyscraper. Aiding her in the rescue--but playing a decidedly supporting role in the operation--is her boyfriend, Cheng Feng (Yu Rong-Guang).

Yang is a true and satisfied servant of the people, but Cheng, a bitter veteran of the Vietnam War, is fed up with his low pay and abruptly announces that he’s off to Hong Kong to make some money working with an old friend but will return to marry her. Shortly thereafter, Yang is assigned to go to Hong Kong herself, to help break up a gang of criminals believed to be illegal immigrants from China. You probably won’t faint from shock to discover that Cheng has joined them.

Tong is terrific at staging action, which takes precedence over exploring the relationship between Yang and Cheng, who are onscreen together only rarely. It speaks a great deal for Khan and Yu’s charisma and authority that in a few brief moments they’re able to make the couple’s relationship as credible as it is. Clearly, Yang did not know what her man was all about--even if she is a top cop. In any event, “Once a Cop,” although certainly entertaining, might have been more involving had Tong and his co-writer Shaw Lai-King struck a better balance between action and emotion. They are able, however, to inject some lighter moments in the camaraderie among the Hong Kong policeman with whom Yang is working, and the film’s finale is an action tour de force.


What is most interesting about “Once a Cop” is its spirit of detente as 1997 approaches and with it, Chinese control of Hong Kong. Raymond Chow’s Hong Kong-based Golden Harvest company has long been shooting in the People’s Republic of China, and in depicting Yang as a virtual superwoman the film is able to suggest that China has its crooks just like every place else. Significantly, “Once a Cop” shows Yang and her counterparts in Hong Kong working together in perfect harmony in going after the bad guys.

‘Once a Cop’

Michelle Khan: Detective Yang Kin-Wah

Yu Rong-Guang: Chang Feng

Emil Chau: Inspector Lee

A Rim Films release of a Golden Harvest production. Director Stanley Tong. Producers So Hau Leung, Barbie Tung. Executive producer Leonard Ho. Screenplay by Tong, Shaw Lai-King. Cinematographer Lam Kwok-Wah. Editors Peter Cheung, Cheung Kar-Fei. Costumes Au Kwok-Wai. Music Richard Lo. Production designer/art director Ma Kwong-Wing. Sound Chow Siu-Lung. In Cantonese with English and Chinese subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes.

Times-rated Mature (standard martial arts movie violence). Times guidelines: action sequences not so gory to preclude older children if accompanied by adult.