Hiding from the Chinese Families they’ve antagonised, three agents serve the mysterious Director…
Based on the John Woo 1991 film, and the English language 1996 remake, this one-season Canadian show starred The X-Files’ Nicholas Lea alongside Sandrine Holt and Ivan Sergei, and comes across as a distant relative of the ITC shows of the 1960s – programmes like Strange Report or The Champions. It shares their slightly heightened dialogue and ridiculous situations, although at least Once a Thief didn’t have to rely on back projection to establish its locations.
It’s a pleasant enough diversion: the humour sometimes comes across as a little juvenile, but the action sequences are well put together, using some of Woo’s trademark shots, and maintaining the director’s almost fetishistic love of weaponry. It doesn’t take itself too seriously: the first time we meet the Director (just before she explains the plot of the pilot to those who didn’t see it, which includes anyone watching this box set from scratch!), she’s acting more like a teacher in a soft porn film than the serious leader of an intelligence outfit. Nic Lea’s X-Files roots are sent up in one episode, and there’s an adequate Bond spoof.
Fans of the series will be pleased to learn that Network have released the original Canadian prints of the show, rather than the amended ending created for the American broadcast. It’s a bittersweet and appropriate conclusion for the series – the benefit of the producers knowing that they weren’t coming back for a second year. The quality of the transfers is what you’d expect from an NTSC/PAL exchange, with the colours and sound nearer the American 525 norm than the UK.
Verdict: Mildly diverting series that might well appeal to fans of Chuck. 6/10