Words like “frantic”, “crazy” and “eccentric” are best described for Too Many Ways To Be No. 1 <一個字頭的誕生>, an entertaining genre film that combines triad drama with pitch-black comedy undertones — all gleefully deconstructed in a Milkyway house-style.
Produced by Johnnie To and directed by Wai Ka-Fai, which also marked his sophomore directing effort after Peace Hotel <和平飯店> (1995), the movie tells three “what-if” stories about the fate of a small-time triad member played by Lau Ching-Wan as Wong Ah Kau. To avoid spoilers, let’s just say each of his decisions led to a series of darkly funny moments and of course, violent circumstances.
First things first, Too Many Ways To Be No. 1 <一個字頭的誕生> is far from your average or mainstream-friendly HK crime/black comedy film. Here, Wai Ka-Fai isn’t afraid to go wildly experimental with his gonzo direction, notably on he employs frenetic and frequently roving camerawork that perfectly mirrored Ah Kau’s chaotic situations with his fellow gang members (among them are Francis Ng, Cheung Tat-Ming, Elvis Tsui and Matt Chow). If that’s not enough, some scenes are even shot in extreme close-ups while others can be seen in complete upside-down or framing from bottom up.
Wai Ka-Fai’s script is just as inventive, in which he co-wrote alongside Szeto Kam-Yuen and Matt Chow — a result that earned them a well-deserved Best Screenplay nomination in the 17th Hong Kong Film Awards, even though they lost to Raymond To for The Mad Phoenix <南海十三郎>. All three different segments have their own genuinely wacky moments. But personally, I enjoyed the first 30 minutes the most, which involves a botched robbery that you just have to see it for yourself.
At the heart of this movie is the energetic cast led by Lau Ching-Wan, who steals most of the show as Wong Ah Kau. The rest including the likes of Carman Lee, Francis Ng, Ruby Wong, Cheung Tat-Ming and Elvis Tsui all deliver strong supports in their respective roles.