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City on Fire

Not rated, 101 min. Directed by Ringo Lam. Starring Chow Yun-Fat, Carrie Ng, Roy Cheung, Danny Lee.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Oct. 25, 1996

Not since Michael Moore was caught playing fast and loose with the timeline of Roger & Me has critical attention been so sharply attentive, as certain similarities between Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs and this 1987 Ringo Lam (Full Contact) shoot-'em-up have come to light. To be sure, there are some amazing coincidences here, but most of them don't pop up until the film's final reel. Whatever the case, Lam's film stands on it's own two feet, more or less. Chow Yun-Fat is Ko Chow, an undercover cop who's sick of the game and wants out. His superiors, naturally, have other plans for the tired, love-struck police officer, and instead assign him to infiltrate a gang of jewel thieves headed by Danny Lee (who played an exactly opposite role in John Woo's The Killer). Meanwhile, Chow's having trouble hanging on to his fiancée, who also wants him to drop police work in favor of something less hazardous. And as if that weren't enough, Hong Kong intelligence officials are after him for something completely different, not realizing -- and, as it turns out, not really caring -- that Ko Chow is one of their own. Talk about your bad days. Lam's film is more of an extended meditation on the virtues of loyalty than anything else (and the same could be said for Tarantino's film), complete with many lengthy sequences of inscrutable dialogue that poorly translate the obviously genuine emotions behind them, if at all. Chow Yun-Fat seems vaguely miscast here as the sympathetic, downtrodden cop who gets too close to his target, with predictable results. Not a bad film by any stretch of the imagination; it just makes you wish you knew the subtleties of Cantonese by heart, and not by subtitle.
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