Too Many Ways to Be Number One

AKA: Too Many Ways to Be Number 1, Too Many Ways to Be #1


Director: Wai Ka-Fai

Stars: Lau Ching-Wan, Francis Ng

This is a hard film to describe. At its core, it tells the story of a small-time hood (Lau). The twist here (similar to the excellent German film Run Lola Run) is that Too Many Ways explores the same situation (a car heist in the Mainland) under different conditions. Without giving too much away, there are times where Lau both "wins" and "loses," though this film blurs the line between many accepted elements in the genre, so it is still unclear at the end wether anyone has truly won.

Director Wai does for HK gangster films what Tarantino's Pulp Fiction did for US gangster movies -- he gives it a much-needed shot in the arm. Like Pulp, which stood out in a sea of Goodfellas wannabes, Too Many Ways take the rules set forth by the popular "heroic bloodshed" movies (such as A Better Tomorrow) of the late '80's-early '90's and turns them upside down -- literally. One fight sequence is filmed completely upside down. One might look at camera tricks such as this and dismiss them as self-indulgent film-making. If you've seen any of Andy Warhol or Gregg Araki's "films," then I think you know what I mean -- but here the cinematography (gimmicky as it may be) actually adds to the development of the characters. And in a film like this (where characters, not gun fights propel the plot forward), that makes all the difference in the world.

But what really makes Too Many Ways work is the actors. At first, their performances may come off as amateurish, but when you compare the performances to the overacting present in many gangster films (both from the US and HK), they seem be closer to reality than the "superheroes" present in many other films and thus more believable as characters. Lau Ching-Wan, in particular, is excellent. He often gets overlooked when people discuss HK actors, but he definitely has a lot of talent. This is clearly evident in Too Many Ways, as he literally has to run the gamut from loser to hero. Francis Ng gives a good supporting performance as a fellow hood, bringing in both comedy and drama through his performance.

Too Many Ways to Be Number One is well worth checking out, especially if you're growing tired of all the John Woo/Ringo Lam ripoffs out there.

RATING: 8.75

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