Full Alert | Varied Celluloid

Full Alert

Posted by Josh Samford On September - 18 - 2008
Plot Outline: Inspector Pao is a straight-forward cop who lives his life to the best of his ability, along with his loving wife and a stable job, things seem to be going well for him. All of this changes however when a routine arrest turns into a murder investigation revolving around a man named Mak Kwan who had to silence a man who knew a secret about him and his friends. That secret being that he has a criminal plan that could devastate many. When explosives are found in Kwan’s apartment, along with plans to rob a vault and the murder charge sticks – it seems all is said and done in the case; but when Kwan’s partners think things through; they decide the best course of action is to rescue their leader. Pao sees the angles coming, and does his best to prevent them, but how long can he keep Kwan locked up? And can he dare pull his own gun again after a fatal shooting has left him feeling less than bullet-proof himself. Who will give in this cat and mouse game?

  

The Review
The Review: Ringo Lam is a director who has just been so sadly forgotten outside of the truly obsessed Hong Kong film fans the world over, and it is a very sad situation in many degrees. He’s a director who has created so many great works of art, and contributed so much to the scene and the betterment of Hong Kong cinema that it’s hard to believe that he could ever be as overlooked as he has been. I wonder if it isn’t due to his frequent pairings with Jean Claude Van Damme. I seriously doubt it because the guy doesn’t even get that much press when doing those flicks anyway, but one can’t help but feel they certainly put a damper on one very amazing filmography of work. A filmography that includes: Twin Dragons, The Victim, Full Contact, City on Fire, Prison on Fire and Burning Paradise. If you’ve been around and read enough about the heroic bloodshed subgenre or HK cinema in general, chances are you recognize a couple of those names. Dabbling in all genres (as shown by Twin Dragons and Burning Paradise, two GREAT martial art films), when I am most impressed with Lam is when he is working in the crime genre. It is where he first became noticeable, and no matter how many times he leaves it, it is where he is his most creative. If you’ve read up around on this site, you’ll note that I am a BIG Ringo Lam fan and follow his work as often as possible. Full Alert sadly averted my eyes for far too long, but I have finally fixed that problem and I’m here to say that Lam delivered just as well as I had been told. I was under a different impression when seeing Full Alert, I was actually expecting it to be more of an action caper due to a few things I had heard in the past, but that it is not and in no way is that a bad thing. John Woo may have made his protagonists blood thirsty and his heroes dutiful and unafraid to pull the trigger when need be, but Ringo Lam delivers a very interesting take on crime cinema in Hong Kong.

That is immediately the first thing that grabbed my attention with Full Alert after seeing it, was that Lam, despite having a highly complex thriller plot to go by and a heist atmosphere that definitely pushes the limits with how brilliant a plan can be laid out; he sets his film in a world where cops are golden barreled gunsmiths out to stop the bad guys by any means necessary and the villains aren’t bloodthirsty monsters out for their own evil needs. Granted, there are plenty of black and white comparisons during the film, but the showing of how two men can both have their conscious take hold of their lives and affect their reactions in the line of duty is something that just puts my mind to work. Ringo Lam, when he delivers, will deliver in ways you just never thought would be possible. His tackling of the crime genre has always been in completely different areas in every situation. With Prison on Fire, he focused on the brotherhood that arises when two men are locked away together. In City on Fire he showed us that despite being on polar ends of the law, that men will always be men. With Full Contact he delivered a gritty and destructive film that showed barbarism is alive and well within the human soul and is simply always looking for a means of escape. With Full Alert he shows that no matter how much we fathom our heroes and criminals to be unstoppable or remorseless in their doing of their work; they too are simply men and the point of the film is to show this in a human tone. Ringo Lam, despite making action packed kung fu spectaculars in his Wuxia pictures, is always a reserved and well thought out director when he is at home at work in the realm of crime cinema. Even with Full Contact, there is always a mind at work behind it all and a point will always be made. He is a thinking director, and that gives a film like Full Alert an edge. In the hands of another director, it possibly could have turned out to be just another heist film or a trite actioner. However Lam amps up the emotional trauma and not the physical and focuses not on gun battles, but battles with words between two very intense characters who are both just trying to do their job. They both regret the one kill they have each had to commit, but it is the way in which both kills effect both men that set them apart and in the end, and it is this dynamic that sends Full Alert out the gates. This isn’t The Killer, where two men on opposite ends of the law respect and admire one another – these two men share few things in common and their rationale in life are so different to the point that neither can truly understand the other.

Aside from the great visuals, beautifully paced plot and Ringo Lam’s always consistent structure – what sells this film are the performances. You can write a great script all day, create fully fleshed out characters are have intricate lives and details all laid out on the page – but if the right actor isn’t there to fill that human being that has been created out; then you have no film. Thankfully Lam had Lau Ching Wan and Francis Ng to rely on for the leading roles, two actors who bring just the perfect dynamic to one another. Ng’s character of Kwan has a “do what must be done attitude” that definitely shows in his being on the criminal side of life, while Lau’s attitude is one of authority and he does his best to leave a good life; but he is constantly brought back (especially in this one case) to the one time he had to fire his weapon. Both men express their guilt in the film, but Lau lets his guilt dominate while Ng tries his best to ignore his own. The two men are drawn towards one another and the culmination of their frustrations are evident from the first time they are introduced on screen opposite of one another. If these two didn’t bring the drama, then nothing would have made this film get off the ground or ever find that perfect tension that lends itself to the work. With all of this, there are comparisons some make to the film Heat out there, but really, considering that films like The Killer and so many other heroic bloodshed epics have been made about the duality of man on opposite ends of the law; accusing Lam of stealing is a whole lot less necessary than it was for Tarantino and what he did with Reservoir Dogs when compared to City on Fire (not a shot at Tarantino, but everyone knows he borrowed from the film).

The Conclusion
Full Alert is definitely a film that does have its basis as a conventional heist film, that although it does shoot for the moon (and delivers more times than not), it can’t help the fact that it isn’t purpose and this goes back to the script. As innovative and intriguing as it is, it’s still has its flaws within the script and you can’t glance over that. The film gets a four, which is of course very high, but I don’t say it is my highest four out there. Once again, not to downplay the film, it is great – no denying it – but after all is said and done, one can’t help but hope that Lam finds that perfect script again soon that delves into territory few of us have seen or at the very least master a subgenre like no one else’s business. Long live Ringo Lam, and I think Full Alert should definitely be in any Lam fans’ top five list from his filmography. Definitely something to show others that have discredited him from his frequent hollywood works.



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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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