Endy Chow (left) in "One Second Champion" (2021)

One Second Champion 一秒拳王 (2021) Review

Originally released in March 2021 (even though it was initially scheduled for December last year), One Second Champion <一秒拳王> emerged as an unlikely box-office champ that managed to make over HK$16 million after spending 20 weeks in the Hong Kong cinemas throughout its theatrical run.

The HK$16 million+ total grosses may seem like pocket change. But considering One Second Champion <一秒拳王> is a low-budget production with no big-name stars released during the COVID-19 pandemic era, the fact that it could even make that much was a notable achievement.

The title in question refers to the character named Chow Tin-Yan (singer Endy Chow), a no-good single father who has the phenomenal ability to see one second ahead ever since childhood. He had his moments of fame as a TV sensation nicknamed “One Second Wonder” back when he was just a child (Jayden Cheng Cheuk-Nam played the younger version).

But it was rather short-lived and the older Chow is now spending his time slacking away in a bar. His wife left him with another man and he has to take care of his hearing-impaired son (Hung Cheuk-Lok’s Chow Chi-Leung).

Then along came Yip Chi-Shun (Chiu Sin-Hang, who also directed the movie), a boxer who shares a space with yoga instructor-cousin Yiu (Lin Min-Chen) to run a boxing gym. He ends up hiring Chow to become his training assistant after witnessing the way he manages to avoid getting beaten up by the loan sharks using his one-second ability.

Lin Min-Chen and Hung Cheuk-Lok in "One Second Champion" (2021)

One Second Champion <一秒拳王> marks the solo directorial effort for ToNick’s lead vocalist Chiu Sin-Hang, who last co-directed with Yan Pak-Wing in 2017’s Vampire Cleanup Department <救殭清道夫>. That movie also featured Lin Min-Chen and Babyjohn Choi, where the latter appeared in a cameo role as a janitor in One Second Champion <一秒拳王>.

Using the tried-and-true boxing genre as the base for his movie, he may tread familiar ground that we have seen numerous times before both in Hong Kong (2019’s We Are Legends <入鐵籠> comes to mind) and of course, Hollywood cinemas (Sylvester Stallone’s underdog boxing-movie classic Rocky is the obvious inspiration here). But even with all the familiarities that poured out throughout the movie — the underdog boxer, from-zero-to-hero story, the obligatory training montage and the likes, Chiu manages to elevate the otherwise done-to-death storyline into a surprisingly poignant piece of work.

Incorporating morale-boosting themes of determination, hope and a never-give-up attitude, we see how Chow Tin-Yan goes from a slacker dad to a more responsible and hardworking person after he gradually becomes serious with boxing. The story — written by Ashley Cheung Yin-Kei, Li Ho-Tin, Ho Siu-Hung and Ling Wai-Chun — deserves credit for adding the fantastical element of Chow’s one-second ability to the familiar boxing genre. Not only it turns out to be a nice twist but Chiu uses it to his advantage by blending the right mix of comedy and metaphor-driven drama.

The movie also boasts better-than-expected camerawork when comes to the boxing sequences. With the help of cinematographer Oliver Lau, Chiu blends different shot compositions from Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull (1980)-like point-of-view shots of a character looking at his opponent and vice versa to the likes of wide-angle and tracking shots. Coupled with Leung Pok-Yan’s impressive action choreography, who was also responsible for We Are Legends <入鐵籠>, the boxing sequences are surprisingly visceral and thrilling.

Speaking of camera work, I also loved the way Chiu presented the opening-credit sequence in a seamless, one long take as we follow Chow Tin-Yan waking up from his nap and goes downstairs to a bar while each credit can be seen embedded either atop the ceiling, on the side of the wall, door or liquor cabinet.

As for the cast, both Endy Chow and Chiu Sin-Hang display overall good performances while kudos also go to Hung Cheuk-Lok in his solid supporting turn as Chow’s hearing-impaired son. Lin Min-Chen’s appearance as Yiu, who is mainly introduced to make way for a meet-cute romantic subplot with Chow Tin-Yan, is nothing more than a lighthearted filler moment.

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