Once A Thief

Once A Thief (1990)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Cast: Chow Yun-Fat, Leslie Cheung, Cherie Chung
Extras: Bonus Trailers

John Woo’s ’Once A Thief’ is a classic among Hong Kong action thrillers and crime capers – legendary, in a way. It is one of the finest film ever made in the genre and convinces not only through a great story and rich characters but also through Woo’s superb direction and cinematography.
Whenever Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment is putting out a Hong Kong film on DVD I am very reluctant since they have repeatedly unleashed horrifyingly poor versions of these films on DVD, and when ’Once A Thief’ ended up on my desk, it was only with trepidation that I decided to take a look. Fortunately this version is a bit better than some other releases, though still far from perfect.

The movie is presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio on this DVD in a transfer that is enhanced for 16×9 television sets. Alternatively, a fullscreen version of the film is also part of the release but given the film’s beautiful cinematography, it is wasted. The transfer shows quite a bit of grain throughout and is also contains a few speckles. Clearly the transfer has been cleaned up somewhat, though it certainly did not receive the same attention Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment’s domestic films receive. The transfer also appears a bit soft at times, creating a slightly blurry and washed out image. Color reproduction is generally good and for the most part, colors are consistent and neutral. Black levels are good, creating deep shadows that won’t break up. Edge-enhancement is evident on many scenes, complete with their distracting ringing artifacts.

The audio on the DVD comes as a Cantonese Dolby Digital Stereo track or alternatively as an English stereo dub. The audio also shows a few limitations with a frequency response that is a bit narrow at times and doesn’t contain the bass extension found in many modern films. Still, it is a natural sounding track with good oompf and power nonetheless.

No extras other than a few bonus trailers are found on this release.

With ’Once a Thief’ Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment delivers a decent release of the film. With some additional work it could have been improved further, I am sure, but fortunately the film is not nearly as lovelessly put together as some previous Hong Kong releases brought to us by Columbia TriStar.