Dir: Johnnie To. Hong Kong-China. 1999. 86 mins.

Prod co: Milky Way Image. Int'l sales: Milky Way Image. Prods: Johnnie To, Wai Ka-fai. Scr: Yau Nai-Hoi. DoP: Cheng Sui Keung. Ed: Chan Chi Wai. Main cast: Lau Ching-wan, Ruby Wong.

A delightfully off-beat crime comedy, unusually set in Macao, Where A Good Man Goes benefits from excellent performances in both main and supporting roles, some gentle but genuine humour and sharp direction from Johnnie To, a veteran of some 30 features yet still in his mid-forties.

The film opens on a dark night as a passenger from hell riles his tax-driver and, when fellow cabbies pitch in, soundly thrashes a whole rank full of bat-wielding drivers. Bloodied, but very definitely unbowed, the just-released triad mobster checks in to a dingy hotel run by pretty young widow and her young son. She caters to his highly unreasonable demands and a grudging relationship develops as the con resumes contact with his former cronies and swiftly comes to the attention of the local none-too-orthodox cop, Fat Karl, whose own methods of crime control are not exactly applauded by this superiors or his colleagues. There may be some loot stashed somewhere, and the crook is eventually forced into what seems to be a siege in an exchange bureau, but the film constantly rings the changes on Hong Kong crime movie cliches. If plenty of bottles and tables get smashed, there is a ready flow of comedy that does not rely on slapstick to offset the general damage and the script has some very witty touches.

A good music theme helps the film with a measured rhythm, and the gradual transformation of the initially-horrible hero is both convincing and very appealing, while the female lead is a well-rounded character who keeps her independence and her dignity intact throughout. There is a lovely kind of postscript which shows what happens after the thug finishes another (shorter) stretch in jail, that really makes you want to see the main characters again in another movie. A palpable hit as a midnight matinee at the traditionally exotic Forum of Young Cinema at the Berlinale.