4 | Varied Celluloid - Page 44

House on the Edge of the Park

Posted by Josh Samford On October - 13 - 2008
Plot Outline: Alex is a psychopath who gets his kicks from raping women and sadistically torturing people. Like any good lunatic though, Alex likes to keep up a steady job. He and his best friend Ricky both work as mechanics in a autoshop where they spend their days waiting to go out at night and ‘boogie’! As they are gearing up for a night on the town though, a car with two wealthy young people pull up. The young man driving the car puts some pressure on Alex to help him get his car fixed, so Ricky steps in and takes care of the problem. The young driver fills us in that he is heading to a small ‘get together’ at a close friend’s house, so Alex being the gentleman he is, invites both himself and Ricky to tag along. Alex is eyeing the young girl in the car, and Ricky is almost borderline retarded. So they show up at the party, and the young girl from the car keeps teasing Alex sexually until he gets furious. The group taunts Ricky, making him dance for them (the man just can’t dance) and eventually humiliating him at poker. Alex does what he does best, he pulls out a razor blade and forces everyone to deal with his insanity. Now these kids are going to have to live through a night they’ll never forget.


The Review: Here at Varied Celluloid, I have a very scientific way of choosing which films I want to review. I just review what I feel like watching. So for anyone who might be wondering why I would review House on the Edge of the Park before delving into the early king of the home invasion films, Last House on the Left, it’s based on the sole reason that I feel House on the Edge of the Park is a bit easier to watch. I don’t like starting out comparing the two films because that’s just what you expect every reviewer to do. Yes, this film does have the same star as Last House and he plays essentially the same role, and yes the plots are even highly similar when compared to one another but don’t let that detract you from viewing the film because you may actually be shocked into enjoying this film more than Craven’s picture. A very boisterous comment indeed, who am I to say such a thing? I’m nobody, it’s just an opinion. I too enjoy Last House to a great degree, but it’s hardly the type that could ever register as flawless. Not in anyone’s book. House on the Edge of the Park brings a lot of the things to the table that Craven had already pounded out in his film, but Deodato brings a completely different approach to the Home Invasion film. He delivers a film with a surprisingly minimal amount of gore and is as sleazy and disturbing as you would expect. He doesn’t just deliver some flick to play at the drive-in, he also includes a reverse morality play that is bound to mess with the head’s of anyone who might be watching the film for anything more than just seeing the sleaze played out on the screen. If you came for a film that will make your skin crawl, no doubt about it you may find it in this film, but sandwiched in between all of this is some genuine filmmaking talent. It could be all in my head, just trying to legitimize my love for exploitation cinema, but if so don’t let me know about it. Ruggero Deodato may not make it into any of those famous books about foreign cinema. Robert Maltin and Roger Ebert may never sing of his glory, but he’ll always have a place in the hart of cult cinema fans. Well, select fans. There wasn’t really a visual pattern between his different films, Cannibal Holocaust seemed to have been his most technically brilliant film, but unlike the majority of other similar directors in Italy at the time, he knew how to tell a story and he knew how to challenge his audience. Not just deliver buckets of pointless gore.

What drew me to the film on my first viewing wasn’t just the great (for an exploitation film of course) performances given by Hess and John Morghen, although both lived up to their reputations with the film, it was the morality tale in the film. My first reaction was negative, because we are literally given no one to root for in the film because every person is sickening. The people whom we are expected to grow sympathetic for, the victims, are nothing more than spoiled kids who make fun of our lower class goons. From the very beginning they are antagonistic and patronizing to these guys and the audience knows what will eventually happen. It’s like slapping a bull in the face, at first when Hess begins taking revenge on these saps it doesn’t seem too ridiculous to view him as the actual hero of the film. The first scene in the film shows him raping a woman after pulling her over, but this case is different. These people actually deserve a good slap, but then things start getting sadistic and demeaning and even though we don’t care for these spoiled brats, we still care that another human being could treat someone like this. The film is always moving, with the audience always unsure of their own personal attachments to the characters. Who is the ‘good’ one and who is the ‘bad’? I normally wouldn’t care for such relative morality, but I don’t think Deodato was getting at that. There is some humanity in some of these characters, and you might be shocked by the end of the film to see who is the most genuinely decent. I’m not going to sit here preaching at you and try to convince you that there is some huge underlying statement being made in the film. That it is somehow deep or intellectual to enjoy the film, not at all. If you watch it and find such things, that’s just an added bonus. For what it is, House on the Edge of the Park is an amazing piece of cinematic exploitation. There aren’t any gruesome death scenes, but there are some moments where you can’t help but feel a little dirty for sitting through such a film. The never ending threats of rape, followed by actual rapings and immense brutality, I imagine might could make some viewers just a little more than disturbed while watching the film. The sexual violence never seems to stop throughout the film and if that is a problem for you, then it might be smart to just pass this one on by. Women are beaten, raped and exposed more times than I dare count. It’s an exploitation film though, it comes with the territory. You don’t watch a film like this to feel good about society, yet the nihilism portrayed here might be a bit too much for some of the less receptive audiences.

Now, as I said above the performances given in the film are great by exploitation standards. What I mean by that is you can’t judge this film in the same regards as you would a serious drama. The dialogue in the film is stilted, rigid, cheesy and bares little resemblance to anything you could see someone saying in real life but I’m only stating the obvious. It was probably relatively low budget, with a majority of the dialogue dubbed in later and had only few intentions in the eyes of the producers. There’s a big difference, and the only real way to judge the performances is how well they fit into everything. John Morghen probably gives the standout performance, he is so over the top that he ranges from annoying to hilarious. He keeps the film interesting in my opinion, and for the most part he manages himself well. The sequence in which the snobs have him dancing, and almost stripping, in front of them is just plain bad. Morghen should never be asked to dance in any film he is ever in, because it is a terrible thing to see. No offense to the man, I think he’s a brilliant actor in the realm of cult cinema, but his dance moves look like a small child after receiving electro shock therapy or perhaps a lobotomy. David Hess is complained about often that he is just repeating his role from Last House on the Left, and maybe that’s true but thankfully we don’t have a soundtrack contributed by him this time around. The man just looks rough, and he’s twice as intimidating. He hams it up a bit here, but he’s good at what he does. If we didn’t buy the violent persona the film would fail, but Hess puts up a great show. Whether it’s better than Krug from Last House on the Left or not is debatable, but it is at least on the same level. Rugerro Deodato may never be accused of being a flashy director, but he gets his point across. There are few moments in the film that leave you in awe because of artistic decoration, but he knows how to keep things moving and focused that’s for sure. He tells this nihilistic and bleak story without pulling any punches. No intentional humor that I can recall and no breaks away from the story. There are no bumbling cops searching for the teens (ala Last House on the Left) and there are no characters introduced in the story who don’t go through this catastrophic turn of events. The film is meant to hit you hard, fast and leave you dazed. If it achieves it’s goal is up to the viewer, but I wouldn’t be giving it such a high rating if it didn’t do so for me. The soundtrack for the film can be a little weak at moments, especially any time the lame disco breaks take place, but the haunting theme song works very well in the film. Audio maestro Riz Ortolani returns to the Deodato stable delivering a soundtrack that doesn’t quite reach the high standards of the ‘weird-but-good’ Cannibal Holicaust score, but definitely deserves it’s own mention in any review.

Let’s make no bones about it though, this is definitely a B-Movie. An exploitation film. You should know what to expect, if you don’t then god help you. It contains the usual things that you might hear average critics rail on but if you don’t mind hearing a story told in the most unconventional of methods and you don’t mind getting a little grit on yourself then take this one out for a spin. If it disturbs you, leaves you breathless or makes you want to slam your fists down on the dvd player in frustration that someone could be so sick; then the film is doing what it’s supposed to. Revulsion is the highest achievement a film like this should strive for. I’m giving it a four on my measly scale. It’s not a film that everyone can just pick up and fall in love with, but for that select niche of freaks and weirdoes (like myself) who actually seek films like this out you may find a new classic.


Posted by Josh Samford On September - 30 - 2008
Plot Outline: Bandai (Koichi Sato) is a desperate club owner in debt to the local yakuzas. He keeps putting off the payment but knows he will have to come up with it soon or the consequences may be dire. He quickly takes on the idea to rob the local yakuzas, because he is aware that there is a safe in their office with a good deal of cash, so he begins looking for a team to help him pull it off. He first finds the knife carrying and sexually ambiguous Mitsuya (Masahiro Motoki, who was in the great Bird People in China), whom Bandai has more than just a little fascination with. Then he finds Jimmy (Kippei Shiina), a stuttering and blonde junkie/pimp who happens to have a girlfriend whom he loves and wants to leave for Thailand with. Then there’s Hizu (Jinpachi Nezu), an ex-cop who was kicked off the force for dubious character traits, he now needs the money for his family and to get his life straight. Last but not least of course is Ogiwara (Naoto Takenaka), an unemployed business man who has went just a little bit insane and now picks fights with anyone who might challenge his masculinity. Together the five decide to pull off the heist, but things don’t go according to plan and the yakuza are on them like white on rice. Now they have to run for their lives, or fight for them.


The Review: Anybody remember Things To Do in Denver When You’re Dead? Some call it a Tarantino knockoff, same with plenty of other films I don’t mind too much, but I personally always found it to be one of the most underrated crime films of the nineties. It’s not perfect by any means and there are moments where it feels like a made-for-tv gangster melodrama, but more often than not it was a unique look at the underworld. It’s basic plot went like this: After a job goes bad for a group of criminals, a Mafia boss wants them dead. The rest of the film follows the remaining days in these group of men’s life. As the tagline says; They can die quickly. They can die slowly. But they must die! Sound a bit familiar? It should if you read that above plot outline. Which film came out first, I’m not really sure since imdb has them listed in the same year but I have to imagine Denver did. If Gonin had, then I think a million little film geeks would have been up in arms calling Denver a ripoff in order to prove some point about how ‘in-the-know’ they are. The clearest sign to me that Gonin is the one most likely borrowing from other films is simple logic. Who has ever heard of a Hollywood film going from the scriptwriting stage, pre-production, casting, filming, post production and release all in one year? It doesn’t quite add up in my book. Maybe it’s just a coincidence and I’m not seeing things clearly. The only movie references the imdb even has listed for the film is from the French crime film “Riffi”, but that seems to be for the holdup scene. In the end it doesn’t matter, because Gonin may or may not borrow liberally from this underrated Andy Garcia film, but what Takashi Ishii adds to the production is what makes the film unique. He gives the film an urban feeling with a gritty realism not seen often in crime films these days. The lighting is garish, the characters are repulsive but endearing and the film sucks you in. Ishii takes the existential dread of Kitano’s films (and I’m thinking specifically of Sonatine) but gives a force and a name to what may bring about the demise of our ‘heroes’. The film is equally loved and hated depending on what circles you run in, but I for one can’t resist the film. I won’t use that old redundant ‘car crash’ analogy (you know, like a car crash you can’t look away) but the violence within the film has impact and the characters have meaning, which makes seeing violence brought upon them all the more painful and all the harder to look away.

Gonin has been ridiculed for a number of reasons, one of which is that it’s unnecessarily cruel or as one review I read put it ‘mean’. Like a rabid dog, Gonin is most definitely a mean film, but at it’s heart it cares about it’s characters. I never found anything in the film to be excessive, sure you don’t like seeing these rather decent men treated in such a way, but that’s part of the experience. Although I was watching the film for my second time today, having seen it in the past, certain parts of the film still managed to make my heart race. I knew the outcome, I knew what was coming and yet it still provoked such a sincere reaction from me. I always say that if a film produces a reaction, any form of physical reaction from it’s audience, then you have got to show at least some respect for said film. I have a vast amount of respect for Gonin, in every single aspect of the film. Takashi Ishii really made me step back and re-evaluate what I thought I might know of this director. My only previous experience with the director was sitting through Evil Dead Trap, which I didn’t actually care much for. I thought it was interesting to see a Japanese director who seemed to be so inspired by Italian horror films (most likely Dario Argento especially), but the way the film came out really didn’t hit me that hard. There was one of the most disgusting eye slicing’s in celluloid history, but other than that I thought the film was too drawn out and maybe even a bit too bizarre for it’s own good. Best to take notice because that’s a pretty rare criticism coming from me. Anyway, I assumed the director was likely a hack. One of the many Japanese gore directors making films for a straight to video market, but Gonin is a work of honest emotion. It hits it’s audience with intensity, but doesn’t forget that they need to be entertained. He lets us grow attached to these characters, but doesn’t ask for an abundance of sympathy when some die. It is reproachful, but genuinely honest with it’s self. There are comparisons that could be made to Takeshi Kitano’s films, but when it comes to his displaying yakuza characters he is often sentimental to their plight. He shows them as arrogant children, but he lets them remain human. Ishii removes all humanity from these characters. These are men who kill, torture and maim to get what they want. They may be children but they’re violent children, and this is why they’re so menacing. The leads that are provided may not be the most perfect of individuals, but we know we don’t want them to fall into the hands of these beasts that are hunting them. As we grow to know these wild cards though, we learn their stories and we learn to care for them. That’s why the confrontation hurts so much.

The acting for the most part is grand, in my eyes at least. The most noticeable exceptions come with Kippei Shiina and Naoto Takenaka, both play things up a bit and have a problem with going overboard, but neither detracts from the brilliant performances of our leads. Particularly Koichi Sato and Masahiro Motoki. Both give their very best to the film, particularly Motoki whom I also loved in Takashi Miike’s Bird People in China. The acting style (with of course the above exceptions) tends to be very subtle and at times deadpan, much like Kitano’s work, but there is a lot of emotion brought out from these characters. There is a homosexual subtext to the film that is difficult to read exactly what Ishii was trying to say, but when it comes to the forefront at the end it’s quite powerful. If you have a really bad problem with this sort of thing then perhaps you should steer clear, but I’m not the most comfortable person in the world when it comes to seeing two men kiss but I never felt out of place or drawn away from the film. The actors do nothing but help the film, even those who ham things up. Even the most dramatic of films needs some sort of comedic release. Takeshi Kitano who is often thrown on promotional work for the film really doesn’t have a huge part. He has few lines, but after the burglary he becomes almost mythical. Larger than life, almost omnipresent in his relentlessness. Kitano gives a far more menacing performance than in any of his films, even in Boiling Point where he played another ruthless yakuza, he never reached the heights he does in this film. His character is pure tension for all involved, as soon as he hits the screen you just know something bad is going to happen. Takashi Ishii who I have bragged about quite a bit thus far really makes a name for himself with this film. Of course he had done that far before this one film, but in my eyes, this is what sealed me as a fan and truly makes me want to watch Evil Dead Trap again to see if there’s a possibility I might have been wrong. The film is dark all throughout, sometimes too dark for some critics, but his shadow covered world only helps my viewing experience. His use of color throughout the film is like a walking nightmare, the disco scenes in particular are truly garish. He uses color sparingly throughout the film, but when he does go all out with flickering lights and colors in the scenes that take place in Bandai’s disco he makes sure it too is as gritty as everything else in the movie. The film is hard to pin down with a certain ‘look’ because the director seems to always be changing, but his transitions and stylization is absolutely wonderful. In one scene he slows the frame down until it stops blank, but lets the sound continue to move. He uses it to set up the rather infamous and much talked about torture sequence, he lets us hear what is going on but not see it. He sets up this tension and hits us with something so cold that it makes for a very uncomfortable feeling. Running it through my head, I think of it as very De Palma’esque, but it doesn’t play out that way at all. Ishii crafts a style his own, with a film as equally unique in so many ways.

It’s hard for me to recommend it so highly, I have no choice but to give it a four, but for the select audience that might see all of the things I do and more it’s a film truly in a class it’s own. Why a four and not a five? Well, as much as Ishii does he doesn’t explain a lot of things in the film. There’s a lot of things going on with the characters that only seems to be hinted at rather than delved into head first. Ishii isn’t restrained in the film, but there are things one would hope could be dealt with on a level deeper than symbolism. Still, if you’re wanting a solid crime film, look no further. Things are thick until the very end and the film never ceases to amaze me with each sit. There are some who generally don’t like the film and their opinion is just as valid as mine, it’s all up to the viewer. All I can say is that I love a good crime story, and if it has all the bonus goodies that this film has then it’s not only a good crime story, it’s a great film.

Fulltime Killer

Posted by Josh Samford On September - 24 - 2008
The Plot: O is an isolationist, and he’s also the number one assassin in all of Asia. He lives alone, with his only source of companionship in the form of a girl who cleans his apartment as he watches from across the street. O lives his life as usual until Tok enters the game. Tok is a mysterious and flamboyant assassin who is after the title of number one hitman, and that means taking O out of the game. As Tok starts work he falls for the beautiful Chin, a girl who works in a local Japanese video store and just so happens to be O’s house cleaner. This bizarre love triangle has to come to an end, but when it does, who will survive?


The Review: I thought Hong Kong was dead. I really did, and for at least partially good reason. What once was a breeding ground for creative filmmaking seems to have fallen pray to the glamour of Hollywood productions, at the same time just emulating films that are emulating their own films. That’s probably putting things in a much simpler light than they really are, It’s just that this new wave of Hong Kong strikes me as all gloss and little substance. Not that a film like Hard Boiled was brimming with substance and character development, but when you were dealing with a director like John Woo, you were dealing with a real talent. A visionary in the action field and probably one of the most important action directors since Sam Peckinpah. When you compare Woo with someone like Benny Chan or Wilson Yip, you’re treading in completely different waters. Hong Kong has just become more commercial. Pop stars dominate the screen and hard hitting cop/gangster dramas are pretty much nonexistent. One could say there isn’t a demand for it, but the existence of Fulltime Killer says otherwise to me. So here I am, having just stumbled out of Fulltime Killer, totally blown away and my faith in Hong Kong cinema at least partially restored. At moments Fulltime Killer is just as glitzy or ‘Hollywood’ as anything to come out of recent Hong Kong, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. Johnny To and Wai Ka-Fai show that just because a HK film has the technology and chic look of a Hollywood film doesn’t mean it can’t deliver the ferocity and dynamic action that heroic bloodshed fans have grown to love.

Dynamic and Ferocious are just two of about a million adjectives you could use to describe Fulltime Killer! Those looking for a subtle character piece had best look elsewhere. Reading a review for the film on the imdb that criticizes it for being all brawn an brains just makes me sick, I would have to assume this person is just lacking in testosterone. Sure, if a film is idiotic but full of action then you’re not going to have fun, but not only is Fulltime Killer a blasting action film, but it’s at least competently written enough so that it’s got a little twist and doesn’t fall into all out boredom from it’s own rudimentary script. Fulltime Killer doesn’t exactly bring anything new to the table storywise, but what it’s plot lacks in originality it more than makes up for in it’s execution. First of all, the story builds upon so many things; least of which is the regular generic ‘hero & villain have close ties’ story that Woo so perfectly executed long ago. There are so many things going on in Fulltime Killer that it’s hard for me, after one viewing, to even begin to decipher it all. The film is self referential, the fact that our lead character is a film geek and seems to have learned his trade from watching movies was a brilliant move in my opinion. There are references in the dialogue about everything from Robert Rodriguez to an obscure French film that I haven’t even heard of. It’s an easy way for the audience (especially us nerds) to identify with such an over the top persona as Tok. Andy Lau plays the role full tilt. The scene most likely to be mentioned in any review for the film that exceeds one paragraph is a shootout Tok has while wearing a Bill Clinton mask over his face. Tok just walks out of a coffee shop, walks around the corner with the mask on, shoots a few goons with his shotgun then ends it all by blowing away his target’s knee caps and then taking his life. All while on a date! Andy Lau doesn’t take off the mask until after he’s blasted all the guy’s away, but even with his face hidden he still is just radiant in the part. It’s defining role no doubt about it.

Of course, I shouldn’t have to say it because I say it so much, but Fulltime Killer isn’t a perfect film. As much as I wish it was, and as much as I wish I could give it a stubbing and not feel wrong I just can’t. For the most part the film is everything I’ve said it is; Exciting, awesome and one of the best action films to come out of Hong Kong in a long while. But the film just falls apart near the end. There aren’t any huge plot gaps or anything to make me attack the film, but after all the hugely innovative stuff to come previously, the ending just feels like a copout. There’s a small and predictable twist, but the fact that everything just falls together so ‘neatly’ doesn’t sit right with me. Simon Yam is completely wasted in the film, speaking most of his dialogue in fairly good English, he just doesn’t even feel like he’s part of the story. He’s more of a go between in everything. The real story lie’s with Tok and O, and every second away from them feels like a second wasted. I love Simon Yam don’t get me wrong, it’s not his fault, it’s just the character is weak. If this part of the story was really supposed to work, there should have been more interaction with the other characters. So when everything comes together with Yam during the last twenty minutes it doesn’t settle. It all feels phony and it’s hard for me to put into words. Usually when dealing with the heroic bloodshed (man, I feel weird calling this flick that but I guess that’s what it is) you would expect that the ending would be the most phenomenal part, but here we barely go out with a bang.

Don’t take my word for it, you’ll have to make up your own minds about the film. Whether I’ve overhyped the action (which in truth there isn’t that much, it’s just done so well) or underhyped the ending, you’ll likely have a battle with hype if you listen to my moronic ramblings. If you like gangster films, this is a must see. Hong Kong may be changing (and heck, maybe it’s for the better), but it’s good to see that hard hitting action dramas haven’t been completely forgotten. I wish my knowledge of Johnny To & Wai Ka-Fai was better, but I’ll just say I hope to see more of their work.

Full Metal Yakuza

Posted by Josh Samford On September - 24 - 2008
Plot Outline: Kensuke (Tsuyoshi Ujiki) is a low-level member of a Yakuza syndicate who doesn’t seem to be able to do anything right. He is chased off by an elderly woman when trying to collect debts, he cowards out at the last minute during an assassination and he can’t even please a woman in bed. His life is going down the tubes quick, but just as his life is falling to pieces his old boss Tousa (Takeshi Caesar) is getting a new start as he is set free from prison for murdering a series of rival gangsters with a sword a few years back. Kensuke is in awe of this magnificent specimen of gangster stoicism, but it doesn’t last long because a hit has been called on Tousa and before he can even get back with his old girlfriend who still loves him dearly, he is shot dead along with Kensuke after the two are set up. It might seem like the end of the story, but it’s not. Kensuke and Tousa’s bodies were sold on the blackmarket, and Kensuke awakens in a new body. A Full Metal body. That’s right, he’s a cyborg. Now he sets out to make things right, but even though he now has amazing powers, he’s still the same Kensuke at mind.

Continue reading “Full Metal Yakuza” »

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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