One-night romance runs out of steam

Aaron Kwok and Yang Zishan (both above) play characters that are not persuasively drawn.
Aaron Kwok and Yang Zishan (both above) play characters that are not persuasively drawn.PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

REVIEW / ROMANCE

ONE NIGHT ONLY (PG13)

102 minutes/Opens tomorrow/2/5 stars

The story: Gao Ye (Aaron Kwok) is an incorrigible gambler who is deep in debt. Momo (Yang Zishan) is a prostitute who knocks on his door by mistake. Thus begins a night of adventure as they place bets in an underground fight club, get forced into a life-threatening car race and trade stories in an abandoned mansion.

The idea of a story taking place in the course of a single night is an intriguing one.

The compressed timeframe heightens the sense of excitement as characters have to meet, fight, make up or break up - and all before the sun rises.

Before Sunrise (1995) is an engaging talky take on the concept, while Au Revoir Taipei (2010) goes for a more energetic vibe with a caper that is also a love letter to the city's rich nightlife.

One Night Only is like neither of those films; in fact, it does not seem to know what to do with the concept. Here, the one-night timeframe feels contrived at times as the story has to hinge on the most idiotic of events.

Despite meeting Gao Ye for the first time and despite the fact that he lives in a hovel, Momo happily hands over a stack of cash for him to gamble with. And later, her bunch of sisters-in-trade do the same as well even though he does not seem that persuasive.

Neither are the characters persuasively drawn.

Gao has an estranged daughter but his actions are not exactly consistent with that of a man who wants to have a second chance with his child. Kwok tries but it is hard to feel much sympathy for his character.

Fresh-faced Yang, who broke out in Zhao Wei's coming-of-age drama So Young (2013), is saddled with inconsistencies in her role as well. Aside from her questionable motivation, there are things about Momo that do not make sense.

It is suggested that she was trafficked into prostitution, yet she seems to be remarkably free when it comes to her time and movements.

It is also incongruous to have all these characters interacting in Mandarin when they are clearly in Thailand, a setting which feels incidental and accidental.

The big reveal at the end is supposed to make everything click. In truth, it raises more questions than it answers.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 27, 2016, with the headline 'One-night romance runs out of steam'. Print Edition | Subscribe