'Once a Thief' is absolutely Woo wonderful

January 20, 1995|By Stephen Hunter

The Baltimore Film Forum continues its John Woo series tonight with Woo's "Once a Thief," noted far and wide among film scholars and other refined cinema aesthetes as the only film in history in which a guy gets killed by a flaming basketball.

Yet basketball death is only one of the delights of this whacked-out film. There's a guy who throws cards like Ninja stars, a gangster so in love with an awful painting that he'll spend any amount of money and lives to acquire it, and a car-chase sequence in Paris that argues the work of the great European car-chase choreographer Remy Julienne until you see in the credits that it was done by . . . Remy Julienne.

Conceived as a not terribly serious homage to Hitchcock's "To Catch a Thief," the movie stars the great Chu-Yun Fat, the nearly great Leslie Cheung and the not-great but very beautiful Cherie Chung. Named Jim, Joe and Cherie, they're raised as professional art thieves, go to Europe to pull off a huge job, are betrayed and return to Hong Kong to (eventually) get even.

The whole thing is almost effortlessly spectacular in the ways that only Woo could bring off; a couple of first-rate art robberies, that great car chase, gun battles, and martial arts stuff galore. All of it nuttier than a toasted-almond Good Humor bar.

The film shows at 8 p.m. at the Baltimore Museum of Art. For more information, call 889-1993.

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