Issue #280         HOME          E-mail:        BACK ISSUES     September 12th, 2005

To Be Number One
(1991; Golden Harvest/Johnny Mak Production/Dootson Investment Corporation)

Cantonese: Poh Ho
Mandarin: Bo Pao
English: Crippled Ho


  RATING: 6/10


While undeserving of the Best Picture prize it collected, this Mak Brothers production is a moderately entertaining entry in the period gangster genre. However, it was clearly supposed to be more than that and, as such, fails to fully deliver on its promise. The subject is real-life gangster "Crippled" Ho (Ray Lui Leung-wai) and the film opens in 1963, with Ho's humble beginnings as a small-time criminal. He goes into a partnership with ganglord Ng Shing-kwan (Kent Cheng Chuk-see) and dirty cop "Loud" Hung (Tommy Wong Kwong-leung) to control the local heroin trade. As the years pass, Ho's powerbase and wealth grow, incurring the wrath of Ng in the process. Crippled in an assassination attempt, Ho convinces Ng's disgruntled girlfriend (Amy Yip Chi-mei) to help him frame Ng on possession charges. This act makes him an enemy of top cop Lui Ko-tin (the man behind the rampant corruption in the HK police force and a partner of Ng), who retaliates against Hung and Ho. The latter is eventually able to strike a deal with Lui (Kenneth Tsang Kong) and is given all of Ng's old territories as a result. When Ng is released from Stanley Prison several years later, Lui gives him some of Ho's territories in an attempt to avert more internal fighting, but it is clear that the two are not ready to settle their differences. The creation of the Independent Commission Against Corruption in the 70s forces Lui to take early retirement; Ho views this as his chance to eliminate Ng and rule the entire HK underworld. However, his followers have grown so complacent in the past few years, Ho’s plan seems doomed to failure.

Ray Lui Leung-wai (left), Tommy Wong Kwong-leung Cecilia Yip Tung

Ray Lui gives a typically flamboyant turn as Ho (and even gained weight for the part, a la Robert DeNiro in RAGING BULL), though his scenery-chewing does not seem worthy of the Best Actor award he garnered. More impressive are Kent Cheng and Kenneth Tsang, as his uneasy partners/adversaries, and the dependable Cecilia Yip as Ho's ever-loyal wife. In spite of lavish production values and some show-stopping instances of gang warfare, this remains a somewhat empty affair, lacking the passion and memorable characters found in the best triad thrillers. Regardless, it was a major box office success, prompting the Mak Brothers to re-team Lui and director Poon Man-kit for the two-part triad epic, LORD OF EAST CHINA SEA (1993). The huge supporting cast includes Waise Lee Chi-hung, Lawrence Ng Kai-wah, Elvis Tsui Kam-kong, Lau Shun, Lo Lieh, Lau Kong, Ng Man-tat, Alvina Kong Yan-yin, Victor Hon Kwan, Chung Fat, and Frankie Chin Chi-leung (whose surname is actually Chan, but is sometimes credited in English as Frankie Chin, presumably to avoid confusion with Frankie Chan Fan-kei).

Kent Cheng Chuk-see Amy Yip Chi-mei


Thankfully presented on a dual-layer DVD (which is apparently now out-of-print, but not difficult to acquire), the transfer of this long feature looks dated, but adequate. The image is rather soft, though the haze and over-saturated hues may be at least partially intrinsic to Peter Pau Tak-hei’s cinematography. Unfortunately, the many untranslated intertitles and newspaper headlines from previous versions remain only in Chinese here, and the 5.1 re-mix is rather thin (the film was originally mixed in Dolby Stereo, at least). A few new gunshot foley FX have been added and there is a brief blank section during the layer change. The lengthy theatrical trailer is on hand, plus trailers for THE INSPECTOR WEARS SKIRTS, SHE SHOOTS STRAIGHT, and TIGER ON THE BEAT II, and bilingual Star’s Files for Ray Lui, Cecilia Yip, and Kent Cheng. This disc refused to spin up in my R1 Sony, but played fine in my R1 Panasonic and all-region Jaton decks.

Kenneth Tsang Kong Ray Lui Leung-wai (left), Cecilia Yip Tung


Here is a translation of the film's end crawl, which reveals the fates of the main characters. Obviously, there are spoilers in the following section, so do not read it until after you have watched the movie:

- Tse Yuen-Ying went into hiding but was caught six months later.

- Mei Mei became a prostitute in Indonesia. No one knows if she is dead or alive.

- Fat Bor was caught in the hospital and sentenced to fifteen years in prison. Committed suicide in jail.

- Tiger Lui had all of his money fleeced by the triads in Taiwan.

- Dai Ha was sentenced to twelve years in jail.

- Chan Dai-Man was sentenced to fifteen years in jail.

- Ng Kwok-Ho was sentenced to thirty years in jail. He was released in 1995.

This DVD is available at:

Images in this review courtesy of Universe Laser and Video Co. To read captions, hover mouse over image.

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Copyright © John Charles 2000 - 2005. All Rights Reserved.


- Hong Kong Release

- NTSC – Region 0

- Universe Laser & Video Co. #DVD 5013

- Dolby Digital 5.1

- Post-synced Cantonese and Dubbed Mandarin Language

- Subtitles (Optional): English, Traditional & Simplified Chinese

- 8 Chapters

- 4:3 Letterbox (2.31:1)

- 137 Minutes (at 25 frames-per-second)


- Australia: R 18+ (cut?)

- Great Britain: 15 (cut)

- Ontario: R

- Quebec: 13+

- Hong Kong: II

- Singapore: M18

- Contains brutal violence, coarse language, brief cruelty to animals, nudity, sexual content, and substance abuse

10 A Masterpiece
9 Excellent
8 Highly Recommended
7 Very Good
6 Recommended
5 Marginal Recommendation
4 Not Recommended
3 Poor
2 Definitely Not Recommended
1 Dreadful