Third time should be a charm for director Johnnie To and actors Andy Lau and Sammi Cheng, who turned out critical and commercial hits with the romantic comedies Needing You and Love on a Diet. But their collaboration in Yesterday Once More falls short of their earlier efforts and lacks both the wit and chemistry that made those movies so enjoyable. This film has a promising start and tells the story of married thieves who break up, go head-to-head, and may still be in love, but the narrative never picks up and it plods along until a surprise final act jolts the picture from its tedium.
Much of the fault lies in the characterization; it’s hard to warm to a movie in which both protagonists are selfish, materialistic criminals. Lau and Cheng have played unpleasant people in the past, but Mr. and Mrs. To have very little to recommend themselves. The pair care more about amassing stolen jewels than they do about preserving their own marriage, which causes them to head for splitsville within the opening scene.
Two years later, Mrs. To is in a relationship with Steven (Carl Ng), a rich young man still clinging to his mother’s apron strings. It’s patently obvious that Mrs. To is only in it for the family heirlooms, but daft Steven can’t figure it out. Luckily for him, mom (Shaw Brothers’ lead Jenny Hu) isn’t so easily fooled since she herself is in the thieving business. A prenup and marriage are agreed to, and Mrs. To gets a pricey diamond necklace, but not before Mr. To reappears and snatches it.
This is where the story should pick up. There’s potential for some clever cat and mouse chases underscored by the couple’s simmering sexual tension, and this push and pull is where the previous films were strongest. Mr. and Mrs. To don’t interact in any way that adds to their relationship, however. Their steady flirtation isn’t enough to sustain the action or cultivate empathy for them. A subplot involving an insurance surveyor (Gordan Lam) adds a bit of intrigue but Hu, returning to the Hong Kong screen after a decades-long absence, seems to not have warmed up quite enough, and it’s not enough to pique slagging interest.
Lau and Cheng finally get to show off in the curveball third act, which scrambles the rules of romantic comedy a bit. But in doing so, Mr. and Mrs. To are challenged to confront their priorities and feelings for each other. The actors get a lot more material to work with, and a less vapid relationship starts to take form. It all comes a little too late in the game for a resuscitation though, and this is one better left on its own.
“If Trouble Comes” (如果我有事) theme song by Andy Lau:
“For the Last Time” (最後一次) by Sammi Cheng:
Prod: Johnnie To 杜琪峰
Dir: Johnnie To 杜琪峰
Action Dir: Yuen Bun 元彬
Writer: Au Kin-Yee 歐健兒; The Hermit 隱士
Cast: Andy Lau 劉德華; Sammi Cheng 鄭秀文; Jenny Hu 胡燕妮; Gordon Lam 林家棟; Carl Ng 吳嘉龍; Chun Wong 秦煌; Hui Siu-Hung 許紹雄; Lin Wai-Kin 連偉健
Time: 98 min
Country: Hong Kong