peteg's blog - noise - movies - 2024 01 02 CityOnFire

City on Fire (1987)

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Another Hong Kong classic. This one was co-written/directed by Ringo Lam. IMDB trivia alleges it "inspired" Reservoir Dogs; more bluntly there are a few scenes that Tarantino lifted directly, and the bromance (again between leads Chow Yun-Fat and Danny Lee). And other things I'm sure, though this one is at the lower end of the ultraviolence scale — it's more of an old-school noir.

Chow is notionally an undercover policeman though it's never clear what his target initially is or his scope of operations; we don't get to see him whoring or gambling, just drinking solo, forlornly, due to his inability to satisfy his girlfriend Carrie Ng (I'd say successful in her role) outside of the bathroom. Their scenes together brought a non-violent levity that made me wonder what the Hong Kong movie machine made for families and women, especially given all the humour in the margins. His boss Yueh Sun is waning in influence, won't let him resign and can't keep him safe but Chow persists anyway.

On the other side is the usual gang of thugs of varying personalities and propensity for violence. Their initial jewellery heist is almost bloodless (of course it goes pear shaped) but the second is a transparent fiasco even before they leave the mattresses.

It's a bit of a time capsule as far as the streets of the city go. There is some great cinematography and the odd inspired set piece. There's a bit too much character development towards the end, when all we're looking for is a satisfactory tying-up of loose ends.

Reviews at City on Fire from 2011: shot like a doco, like the French New Wave, like ... Le Samouraï?