After a mediocre attempt at reviving the jiangshi hopping vampire movie as one half of the directing team behind Vampire Cleanup Department, Hong Kong actor Chiu Sin-Hang has made his solo directorial debut with an infectiously energetic boxing movie. One Second Champion stars Cantopop artist Endy Chow as Chow Tin-yan, a down-on-his-luck single father with a peculiar talent: he can see exactly one second into the future. Outside of the gambling he does to finance surgery for his son’s hearing loss, Chow’s foresight is a totally useless party trick until a bar fight catches the attention of asthmatic boxer Shun (played by the director) who seeks to make a name for his gym in honor of his late father, a great fighter. Soon, Chow is in the ring to make money for his son and discovers that here his power really is super: punches are easy to dodge when you can see them all coming.
Chow wins fight after fight, motivated by his son’s love and love of his son, and is eventually put on a collision course with Hong Kong’s best boxer, Instant Killer Joe, who killed his last opponent and whose team is looking for a gimmick match to rake in profits. It’s all standard stuff, even with the supernatural gimmick, and from here the movie abides mostly predictable formula, with some melodramatic twists and plenty of sentimental touches that some will undoubtedly find hard to take. But Chiu approaches the material with a snappy rhythm that is generous to the dramatic material without letting it stew long enough to become maudlin, and he deftly balances tone throughout to the extent that not a moment rings false, even those that would seem dreadfully corny if explicated here. Take, for example, the waterfront scene between Chow and Shun’s cousin (Min Chen Lin) who runs a Smiling Yoga studio out of Shun’s gym; when she tells him that she dreams of a parallel universe, one where her father never left and she was never cheated on, Chow replies that his one second foresight might create such universes, one where he gets punched and the one where he dodges, that every choice can create a new universe, presenting a malleable future full of hopeful possibility. On paper, this is sappy, power of positivity stuff, but the moment is so quietly observed and the chemistry between Min and Chow so casually electric — the actors create a romantic feeling the screenplay barely even implies — that when the scene is called back to in the finale’s fight scene, it’s rendered more rousing than sentimental.
It’s a good boxing movie, too. Chow looks convincing in the ring — in lieu of a Jackie Chan-style bloopers real, a montage of the singer training plays alongside the credits — and Chiu’s action direction is greatly improved from Vampire Cleanup Department. While many of the fights are shot with fluid long takes, a few doing great effects work to visualize Chow’s superpower, Chiu smartly varies his approach to suit the dramatic needs of each bout. Chow’s ascent as a boxer is shot in those long takes emphasizing motion, making them seem like relatively effortless fights, all the better when Chiu intercuts them with a training montage to reveal the work it took to throw the punch shown in the next shot. A more arduous fight, like the finale against Joe that finds Chow’s circumstances changed, calls for a different style, this one shot through the ring’s out-of-focus ropes and fragmented by cuts, the synecdoche of close-ups on bloody hands and shuffling feet emphasizing every piece of Chow’s physical feat until it all comes together with a close-up of a punch to the jaw. When One Second Champion ends, it leaves many of its threads unresolved, the possibilities of the future uninterrupted by finality, intelligently locating that the joy of the film is not in winning, but in watching its cast of misfits move forward.
Published as part of NYAFF 2021 — Dispatch 1.