Saturday, October 4, 2014

City on Fire

City on Fire; crime drama, Hong Kong/ China, 1987; D: Ringo Lam, S: Chow Yun-fat, Danny Lee, Sun Yueh, Carrie Ng

A gang robs a jewelry story in Hong Kong and escapes. In order to catch the gang, Inspector Lau persuades the unwilling cop Chow to infiltrate its circle by pretending to be an arms smuggler. Chow however wants this to be his last assignment since he is fed up with the police job, among others because he cannot focus on his relationship with girlfriend Hung. Chow manages to enter the crime gang and pretend to be one of the thieves, and even worse, becomes friends with gangster Fu. He informs the police who prevent another robbery of a jewelry, but they follow them to a desolate cabin, which ends in a bloody shootout. Chow dies, while Fu gets arrested.

Ringo Lam's "City on Fire" retroactively gained fame in the West after Tarantino admit it as a major influence on his debut crime film "Reservoir Dogs": however, while Tarantino's story focused on what happened to a crime gang after the robbery, Lam's film focused the story more on what happened before, thus enabling a longer time for anxiety that leads up to the final jewel robbery and the finale, which paved the way for great character development of his main hero, reluctant cop Chow (excellent Chow Yun-fat), who has to suffer privately and professionally for being a "mole" in a criminal circle. The film is not among the best titles coming from the Hong Kong cinema, obvious in a few clumsy scenes and a rather rushed ending, but it has that 80s flair that carries the storyline with ease, while managing to stay suspenseful to the end. It also has a few "relaxing" moments, in probably one of the funniest and goofiest marriage proposals ever caught on film, in the scene where Chow pulls out a ring from his mouth and proposes his girlfriend while they are both taking a shower! The most memorable scene is arguably the one where three gangsters take Chow to the top of the hill overseeing Hong Kong and threaten to kill him in the graveyard since they suspect he might be a police snitch. Overall, Lam proved a sixth sense for crafting aesthetically pleasant crime films, delivering a very good tuition for other filmmakers.


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