My Starter Pack this week focuses on one of my favourite filmmakers, Ringo Lam. He made some of the best and most memorable Hong Kong movies of the late 80s and early 90s, then went on to make a few Van Damme movies and some other stuff which I won’t get into. But during the aforementioned period he made some really stylish and much-loved films that brought the more brutal side of Hong Kong cinema to Western audiences, such as myself, who were looking for new cinematic thrills. Here, in no particular order, is my Ringo Lam top five.
SCHOOL ON FIRE (1998)
Unfortunately this film was mercilessly butchered by the Hong Kong censors at the time of its release, but regardless it remains a classic piece of crime cinema. Vicious and bleak, School on Fire follows a teenage girl as she runs afoul of the triad youths at her high school and ends up getting dragged into their seedy world. Apparently the only uncut version of School on Fire (according to a small amount of internet searching) is the United States VHS release. If anyone out there owns a copy I urge them to upload it to one of the major cult movie torrent sites, or better yet restore the missing parts into a VHS rip, (like many of the clever folk out there have managed to do with other censor-raped cinema classics) and then upload it. Please?
PRISON ON FIRE (1987)
Tony Leung Ka Fai (not Tony Leung Chiu Wai of Lust/Caution) stars as a prison newbie who is taken under the wing of a smart alec lifer, played by Chow Yun Fat. Lots of drama, action and occasionally hilarious moments ensue as the two friends try to get by as prison inmates amid triad quarrels, prison brutality and a warden who has it in for Chow. Another classic Hong Kong film about male camaraderie set against a harsh backdrop, but set apart from the rest by great performances and slick direction.
FULL CONTACT (1992)
I have spoken about this movie before on here. It is one of my favourite action films of all time so I couldn’t leave it off the list. Let the trailer speak for itself.
CITY ON FIRE (1987)
Chow Yun Fat stars as an undercover police officer who lets himself become friends with the men he is investigating, this trait makes him very convincing and effective at his duty, but also leaves him a guilt riddled mess. He is convinced to infiltrate a gang of robbers and finds himself befriending the gang’s alpha male, played by Danny Lee. Fat and Lee are great together in this, as in John Woo’s The Killer, where they are in a very similar situation being on opposing sides of the law only their roles are reversed. If you have seen Reservoir Dogs, you probably have a good idea of how this film pans out. It is a violent and fun ride all the way through to it’s bitter end.
BURNING PARADISE (1994)
Ringo Lam’s take on the martial arts genre, Burning Paradise is a feast of exciting stunts and spectacular action. The Manchus begin rounding up Shaolin Monks and imprisoning them in their trap-filled dungeon. One particularly skillful monk decides to fight back. Awesomeness ensues.