(15/11/07)

"The only reason someone isn’t a hooker or a killer is because they’re ugly or have a bad aim"

Casting can often make or break a film and One Last Dance has a bewildering array of acting talent assaulting the screen – it guarantees a squashed top line on its movie poster. The stars include Vivian Hsu (The Accidental Spy), veteran Hong Kong star Ti Lung, the ridiculously prolific Francis Ng and also Harvey Keitel, in an extended cameo. Writing and directing is relative novice Max Makowski, more known for reality TV shows in the USA, and the film itself is financed by and set in Singapore. A convoluted set-up, to be sure, and one that is reflected in the finished film – a bizarre but engaging cross between the familiar and the unexpected.

Hitman T (Ng) is given the task of tracking down a ruthless gang of hoodlums who have kidnapped the son of a local tycoon. He is soon onto the trail of the kidnappers, working his way up the criminal foodchain but, naturally, his murderous methods do not go unnoticed. Unfortunately for T, the policeman on his tail, Ko, is a friend. The pieces start falling into place not only for T, but also the increasingly entrenched factions of local gangs, including a new Italian mafia supremo Tarrtano.

So far, so conventional, but Makowski throws everything he can into the mix to make a bizarre yet captivating jigsaw puzzle of a film, albeit one where you may be not entirely convinced you have all the pieces of the picture. The film makes extreme use of visual stylisation, with frenetic camerawork that pans beneath road surfaces and through sewers just to rest on a man talking on the phone. Then there are the whip-pans that cut between space and, importantly, time, which makes the film seem linear even as it is fractured. Multiple split screens and composited objects mark transitions and juxtapositions. The hand of a clock wipes from one scene to the next – it’s like a colourful comic book homage to Lars von Trier’s Europa with its deliberate use of stylisation. The use of CGI blood is less successful in the assassination scenes although these make sense when the screen fades to bright crimson.

Makowski also peppers his canvas with a range of borderline insane characters and strange quirks. Almost everyone has a passionate love of drink to wax lyrical about – whether it’s how to have milk in coffee, the quality of various vodka lemons or the reasons why milk should be put into the cup before the tea. There are sub-plots involving a series of coloured suitcases, coded red envelopes, some strange business with a clown, a deaf person central to the plot who signs in kanji and even an Elvis impersonator. And that’s well before the real business gets under way.

One Last Dance does eventually begin to run out of steam, as though exhausted by the barrage of ideas it’s eager to parade. Visual urgency alone makes it worth watching but the truly deranged addition of Harvey Keitel in the middle of this (partly dubbed into Mandarin) Singapore-set drama, brandishing a Chinese musical instrument in front of a bemused captive, is surely worth your attention. If there is a problem, it’s that the filmmakers don’t seem really sure if they are producing a thriller, a comedy or a comic book adaptation but this is a minor quibble. One Last Dance is a colourful, imaginative and innovative twist on a very familiar genre.

One Last Dance is out on DVD now. Please follow the links provided to buy a copy and support Kamera by doing so.