City on Fire | Varied Celluloid

City on Fire

Posted by Josh Samford On July - 22 - 2008
Written for Varied Celluloid by Bullet.


Plot Outline: Undercover cop Ko Chow (Chow Yun Fat) is under serious pressure over his love life, his Job as an undercover police officer and his family life. He is haunted by an undercover job he pulled on a crime boss. Him and his girlfriend are on the brink of a breakup and his uncle is under more pressure then he is over the faults he has done in his job also. Then he is assigned infiltrate a gang of brutal robbers (Led by Danny Lee) while the nightmares and flashbacks of the other crime boss plague his mind.



The Review
Wow, I can’t explain how I feel about this incredibly gritty crime drama from Ringo Lam. Many know about this mainly because most of it was used by Quentin Tarantino in the debut film reservoir dogs. Now I’m not gonna do a comparison fest like other reviews, no, I’m actually going to talk about THE FILM, not the same differences to Reservoir Dogs. This is a terribly gritty crime-drama, with some of the most brutal depiction’s of a cop under a lot of pressure. The sheer negativity in City On Fire is almost unbearable it makes you feel very unsettled. The character Ko Chow is a troubled man trying to outdo the demons in his life by always keeping cool and happy. He is a joker who likes to take things not-to-seriously all the time, he’s a fun guy and what seems to be a loving boyfriend to his always upset wife and a careful cop when it comes to his job. But his nice attitude and persistent silliness leads his girlfriend to think he’s cheating on her with her friend, thus why she leaves him and treats him like dirt, also the C.I.D is onto him thinking that he’s corrupt and that leads to chow on the run from them. The team of robbers are a quite unique bunch of bandits, they’re a generally easy going bunch and are calm most of the time, especially during the first heist we see that goes outta hand. Danny Lee is the lead runner of the group even thought he Isn’t the actual boss, he’s the “Mr. White” of the bunch he knows what to say and he gets along with everyone and even shares a thing or two with some of the members. Danny Lee also works well with Chow in the finale heist, and also the night before the heist they share another bonding sequence like the killer but only a bit more called for and not too rushed, there are plenty of comedic scenes with Chow messing around with his girlfriend and the crew of bandits as well as his Uncle. Then there is Chow’s uncle and girlfriend, Hung (his girlfriend) accuses him of cheating and wants to break their relationship off and marry a older wealthier businessman and start a new life in Canada. His nameless Uncle is under a greater more deal of pressure then Chow is, managing the undercover force and trying to protect Chow from going mad and also keeping away the C.I.D from him as well as being the chief detective of the force, he’s teetering on a nervous breakdown and needs just one or two things to go his way.

Now that I’ve broken up the characters and some of the plot to you it’s time for the real review. The acting here is great, Chow is good in literally every scene he’s in, the first scene with him and his girlfriend at home is funny and pretty light hearted but it went on a bit long and the little bond got kinda weird, he’s charismatic without having too shoot guns and kill (Hundreds) of people. He also is kinda heartwarming also because he’s such a funny, nice individual that doesn’t like to hurt anyone (even the criminals). Danny Lee is also just as good as Chow, he takes his serious scenes and scenarios with a greater caliber then Chow does because Chow in most scenes with him is in pain from being shot. He’s also another one who doesn’t have to hurt anyone unless necessary. The direction is smooth, everything runs accordingly and the film doesn’t move at a slow pace nor a fast pace, Ringo Lams direction lets everything in one scene sink in before moving on to the next, he scene also gives the film a lot more drama and grit and you can’t help but wait til’ the conclusion of these events. The script is well written and the jokes are almost perfectly executed and the film also Isn‘t all-talk like other reviewers say, it has a lot of suspenseful and edge-of-your-seat moments with Chow trying to escape the two C.I.D officers. The jazzy score Isn’t half bad, it gives you a good feel of what’s going on and kinda evens things out. Especially in the ending. The violence is nothing like “Full Contact” or “Hard Boiled” there are three real scenes with some violence but this is one of those movies that can be called violent without taking it to extremes, there is no loss of blood in this when someone gets shot you see what happens instead of Ringo turning the camera way, especially one scene where a cop gets shot that gave me a jolt, the brutal violence goes well with the gloomy style of this film. One scene in a morgue works really well without using blood or gore but still sends a chill up your spine, another would be Chow’s constant nightmares of the other crime boss be betrayed and it gave me a creepier feeling to it, and last there is another scene in a graveyard where Chow’s foot gets stuck in an open grave that sent a chill up my spine because it totally comes out of nowhere. This film has some really, really negative points, it gets almost nihilistic and bleak. The violent conclusion also leaves you wanting more. In a good way, because you’d expect a character to live or something (Funny because I gave away no spoilers right there) but the end does hit you and it hits you good. But the film also has a light hearted theme the whole way through not a dark theme, which is good because a dark theme would have made this cheesy and a bit lame. There are a few minor mistakes and they’ll not bug you at all unless you’re a perfectionist, the scenes of the camera spanning the city streets obviously wasn’t set because everyone is staring at the camera and the subtitles on the DVD move a little quick.

Now when people say this got ripped off by Quentin Tarantino I can’t help but laugh at their spinning ignorance and laughing at what little things they know. This wasn’t ripped off, Reservoir Dogs was based more on an incident then a story, this has a story and characters, unlike Dogs which was then figuring out who was the rat in the pack. This was the complete buildup and conclusion of a story of a troubled cop and the introduction to the people who sent him on a constant downward spiral into doom. The only similarities to Reservoir Dogs is most of the scenes with Chow and the gang of bandits planning and showing the heist that went wrong. But there are a few character similarities, like one robber looks like an Asian Steve Buscemi and acted like Mr. Pink did also. Other then calling themselves by Mr. Like in Reservoir dogs they call on themselves as “Brothers”. Most of the violence and stuff in the end was taken into Reservoir dogs but it’s not what you really think it is.

The Conclusion
Overall this film is REALLY worth looking into if you like crime movies or Chow Yun Fat but like I said don’t expect a totally outrageously violent bullet ridded action movie. Expect a good main character study and some funny lines and gritty themes to go along with it. It’s really on my favorite film list right now as a matter of fact. I suggest going out to find this older forgotten masterpiece



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Varied Celluloid is a film website intent on delivering views on movies from all genres. Started in 2003, the website has been steadfast in its goal and features a database of over 500 lengthy reviews. If you would like to contact us about writing for the website or sending screeners, please visit the about page located here.

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