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City on Fire
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Danny Lee and Chow Yun-Fat
Chinese: 龍虎風雲



Ringo Lam Ling-Tung


Karl Maka, Ringo Lam Ling-Tung

Cast: Chow Yun-Fat, Danny Lee Sau-Yin, Sun Yueh, Carrie Ng Ka-Lai, Roy Cheung Yiu-Yeung, Ho Ka-Kui, Tsui Kam-Kong, Lau Kong, Parkman Wong Pak-Man, Tommy Wong Kwong-Leung, Maria Cordero
The Skinny: Chow-Yun Fat goes undercover, joining a band of hoods and befriending jewel thief Danny Lee along the way. For Chow, it all comes down to a question of honor versus justice in a movie that Quentin Tarantino liked so darn much, he remade it as Reservoir Dogs.
Review by

What's more important, loyalty or justice? That's the dilemma facing undercover cop Ko Chow (Chow Yun-Fat) in Ringo Lam's excellent crime drama City on Fire. The film is a definite must see for HK enthusiasts, if for no other reason than to witness what a Ringo Lam movie was like before he became Jean Claude Van Damme's director of choice.

Like Donnie Brasco and other films of its kind, City on Fire explores the internal ethical struggle for a policeman who get too close to his prey. The plot: after a fellow cop is knifed to death in the streets, detective Ko Chow is put on the trail of some jewel thieves by his world-weary superior, Inspector Lau (Sun Yeuh). Chow, however, has deep reservations about the assignment. "I fulfill my duties?" Chow complains, "But I betray my friends!" Despite his protests, Chow agrees to the job and attempts to befriend head crook Lee Fu (Danny Lee).

After a few tense situations, Chow is eventually accepted into the Fu's confidence and asked to join in on the crew's next big score. As the two strike up a friendship, Chow's personal ethics are put to the test as he finds himself genuinely liking Fu, the very man he's supposed to arrest. Later, the climactic jewelry heist goes terribly wrong with bullets flying everywhere and bodies littering the streets. In the end, Chow is forced to make a definitive, but not surprising, decision on where his loyalties reside, with fatal results.

There have been many comparisons made between this film and Quentin Tarantino's "re-imagining" (An unfortunate buzzword that emerged after Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes debacle. But I digress). Though similar in theme, City on Fire and Reservoir Dogs are dramatically different in execution. Whereas Quentin Tarantino's debut film had a sleek look and crackling dialogue, City on Fire does not—and that's not necessarily a criticism of Lam's flick. Tarantino's world is a kind of hyper-reality in which common thugs can riff on pop culture; Ringo Lam's domain seems a tad bit more realistic. The criminal element depicted in City on Fire operates in a grim, gritty underworld that's only shred of romanticism lies in the immutable loyalty between brothers. Same idea, different methods—but both pretty damn cool movies. (Calvin McMillin 2002)

Awards: 7th Annual Hong Kong Film Awards
Winner - Best Director (Ringo Lam Ling-Tung)
Winner - Best Actor (Chow Yun-Fat)
Nomination - Best Picture
Nomination - Best Actor (Danny Lee Sau-Yin)
Nomination - Best Supporting Actress (Carrie Ng Ka-Lai)
Nomination - Best Screenplay (Shum Sai-Sing)
Nomination - Best Editing (Wong Ming-Lei)
Nomination - Best Art Direction (Luk Chi-Fung)
Nomination - Best Original Film Score (Teddy Robin)
Nomination - Best Song ("Yiu Jaang Chui Faai Lok", performed by Maria Cordero)
Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Joy Sales / Fortune Star
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc
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image courtesy of Universe Laser & Video Co., Ltd. Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen