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Sterling <[log in to unmask]>
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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 28 Feb 1994 14:03:00 EST
text/plain (115 lines)
It's somewhat ironic amidst all this talk about Reservoir Dogs and
copyrights, that Quentin Tarantino(misspelled probably) seems to have
"stolen" much of Reservoir Dogs from Ringo Lam, a "Hong Kong New Wave"
director.  Or so I have read.  Since I haven't seen Lam's City on Fire,
I feel unqualified to say much myself, but here's a copy of the article
from a Trash, a local 'zine, from which I read this.  Any further inqui-
ries can probably be made to: Trash; 405 E. Main St.; Carrboro NC  27510
(if you want a response, it'd be considerate to include your own return
postage).                         --Sterling Chen, UNC-CH
CITY ON FIRE (1987) Directed by Ringo Lam; Starring Chow Yun Fat, Danny
Lee and Sun Yeuh. (Rainbow Video).
     A jewel heist goes wrong due to the presence of an undercover cop
in the gang.  During a gun battle between the thieves and the cops, the
undercover takes a bullet in the gut trying the save the thief he has
befriended.  The thieves get away and meet at the warehouse where the
caper was planned.  The boss of the gang accuses the undercover of be-
ing a cop.  There is a three-way face-off with the boss pointing a gun
at the undercover, the friend/thief pointing a gun at the boss, and an-
other theif pointing a gun at the first thief.  At the end of the movie
the first thief and the undercovedr are left alive--the undercover con-
fesses to being a cop and betraying them as he lies dying from his
    Sounds familiar?  Sounds like the plot to Reservoir Dogs, right? But
in this case, it's the last twenty minutes of City on Fire.
    Writer-director-actor Quentin Tarantino has often been heard to cite
the work of John Woo (Bullet in the Head, Hardboiled and The Killer) as
a major inspiration for Reservoir Dogs.  The influence is easy to spot:
the slow motion shots in the action sequences, the brutal and unflinch-
ing violence, the running theme of unlikely but true friendships, and
the use of action to develop the characters and story.  However, with
all these similarities, there is a closer source Tarantino fails to men-
tion: Ringo Lam's City on Fire.
    Where Reservoir Dogs is told from the thieves' point of view, City
on Fire uses the perspective of a reluctant undercover cop caught be-
tween duty and loyalty to friends.  It's the story of Ko Chow, a cop
who finds himself closer to the thieves he betrays than to his fellow
cops.  He's cajoled and forced into infiltrating a gang of jewel thieves
.  This particular gang is professional, deadly and successful.
    Chow Yun Fat (The Killer, Hardboiled, and the Better Tomorrow series
) plays Ko Chow.  Ko Chow is lost, he's torn between his duty as a cop
and the guilt he feels when he betrays the thieves in whose world he
exists.  He's a man in a world whoere the means no longer seem to jus-
tify the ends.  Ko chow's not a typical good guy; he's irresponsible,
scared and a borderline asshole.  Chow Yun Fat's unusual screen charisma
brings these qualities together and ties them up with a playfulness and
sincerity that make Ko Chow both sympathetic and tragic without diving
into maudlin cliche.
    Sun Yeuh plays Lau, a police inspector who does his best to protect
and support Ko Chow.  He's Ko Chow's lifeline, his only link to the po-
lice force.  Lau is his conscience, reminding him of his duty, and the
only man Ko Chow can really trust.  Sun Yeuh gives a wonderful perfor-
mance as man desperately trying to keep the cause of justice from kill-
ing a man.
    Danny Lee (The Killer, _Just Heroes_ and _Dr. Lamb_) plays Fu, the
cool amiable thief who befriends Ko Chow.  If Inspector Lau is Ko Chow's
conscience, then Fu is his heart.  Fu is canny and professional, loyal
to his friends and realistic about his profession.  Danny Lee brings his
usual solid and dependable skill to the role.  He makes Fu likeable and
sympathetic without lapsing into sentimentality, all the while not deny-
ing Fu's brutality and deadliness.  The easy chemistry between Lee and
Chow make the friendship between the two characters believable and gen-
   Ringo Lam gives the movie a hard gritty feel.  Greys and blues dom-
inate, and the characters and story are in the forefront.  He's not as
stylized or romantic a director as John Woo thogh both explore similar
themes in their movies and both are as successful in their efforts.
Ringo Lam uses camera angles adn scene set-ups to allow the story to
tell itself.  The characters interact, the action develops them even
more and propels the story forward.  The direction is subtle and effort-
less, which is all the more difficult ot accomplish and highlights Lam's
skill.  --Joan Shields
-------------------------more below-------------------------------------
From "A Brief Guide to Hong Hong New Wave Films" (Trash, July 1993):
Most people think Hong Kong movies are all badly dubbed kung fu films
which combine slapstick comedy with crude martial arts.  With the ex-
ception of Bruce Lee, most HK stars are not familiar to American audi-
ences.  Some connoisseurs of martial arts films have discovered Jackie
Chan and the Shaw Bros., kung fu epics of the 70's but don't yet know a-
bout Yuen Biao, Angela Mao or Jet Li.  HK's new wave began during the
mid-80's as young director and stars began to develop new forms from
traditional martial arts cinema.  Following the lead of the Shaw Bros.
who first incorporated magic, horro and waponry into their kung fu films
Jackie Chan, Tsui Hark and John Woo are the avant-garde of an entirely
new form of action flick that is most notable fro its genre mixing and
matching, as well as for the adaptation of Western movie techniques,
especially those of groundbreaking directors like Peckinpah, Raimi,
Scorsese and Sergio Leone, and even Spielberg and Coppola.  Add to this
the innovations required by budgets that are tightly constrained, the ta
lents of actors and actresses who undergo acrobatic and meditative
disciplines as part of their basic training, and the worldwide audiences
for Chinese-language action films that always offer something "new," and
the result is a vast library of wildly imaginative, action-packed, com
plex movies that never cease to amaze, shock  and inspire anyone who is
willing to make the effort to endure mediocre video transfers and subti-
tles that are often difficult to read, when they exist at all.
   This article barely skims the surface.  Some of these movies are avai
lable at better video stores... Others can be rented at Chinese grocer-
iesor bookstores.  Every large city with a "Chinatown" has video stores
that cater to the Asian population, but unfortunately, most of the im-
ported tapes don't have subtitles or dubbing, and often the employees or
managers of these stores don't know which tapes are subtitled and don't
know the English titles of the films.  Sooner or later, someone will
realize the vast potential HK films hold for Western audiences, and we'
ll see plenty of adequately dubbed and subtitled films.  Until then, we
afficionados will go out of our way to find these films and bear with
the qualitative deficiencies in order to be exposed to some of the most
exciting new flick being made anywhere in the world.
Now,I'm not sure how "avant-garde" you can call directors like John
Woo within the Hong Kong film scene, but this is pretty much where I
get much of my info on HK films.  Other sources include the book, Asian
Cinema Industry (or something like that), and friends.  Anybody else
know of any other sources? --Sterling