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School on Fire
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Damian Lau and Fennie Yuen
Chinese: 學校風雲
Year: 1988
Director: Ringo Lam Ling-Tung
Producer: Karl Maka
Writer: Nam Yin
Cast: Fennie Yuen Kit-Ying, Roy Cheung Yiu-Yeung, Damian Lau Chung-Yun, Lam Ching-Ying, Sara Lee Lai-Yui, Tommy Wong Kwong-Leung, Ho Ka-Kui, Ng Chi-Hung, Amanda Lee Wai-Man
The Skinny: Though the film's realism gives way to over-the-top events, this underrated Ringo Lam drama is remarkably gripping. Is school in Hong Kong really this depressing?
by Kozo:

Ringo Lam's high school melodrama is extremely engrossing. Chu Yuen-Fong (Fennie Yuen) witnesses a triad beating and amidst tons of pressure from cops (Lam Ching-Ying and Tommy Wong) and her teacher (Damian Lau), she reports it. However, young triad boss Brother Smart (Roy Cheung) gets annoyed and terrorizes her into paying a HK$30,000 legal fee. It's really just protection money, and things can only get worse from there. Tension grows, events escalate, and IT ALL GOES TO HELL. Ringo Lam handles everything in trademark gritty fashion, and the results will either glue you to the screen or have you hiding your eyes in discomfort.

As a school-set drama, School on Fire has its problems. It portrays its events realistically, though the circumstances are so harrowing that one might question the validity of the film. Is high school in Hong Kong really this terrible? Hope seems to be a foreign word, as teachers and parents are portrayed as powerless individuals who can't stand up to the students, let alone their triad bullies. It's like going to school is a one-way ticket to hell which can only end poorly. Thanks to the beating which Chu Yuen-Fong witnesses, a sequence of events is set into motion that ultimately leads to death and/or other forms of permanent damage to practically the entire cast. At one point, Yuen-Fong sets the school library on fire, proclaiming, "I'll never go to school again!" Taken into perspective, permanent truancy would probably be preferable to this educational environment.

Still, Ringo Lam is a remarkably involving filmmaker. He starts the movie gritty and never wavers. Under his guidance, the film is incredibly gripping and simply demands to be watched. The casting earns points for the use of non-stars and the presence of such screen icons as Lam Ching-Ying and Damian Lau in unfamiliar roles. Only Roy Cheung seems to be operating in familiar terriroty, as he's the triad baddie to end all triad baddies. His character is incredibly despicable, but engenders a strong reaction despite his nearly cartoonish depiction. It's a credit to Lam's direction that such an over-the-top collection of events and characters can be so emotionally compelling. Despite its depressing tone and questionable authenticity, this is great, harrowing movie that's underrated by most fans of HK Cinema. (Kozo 1996/1999)

Awards: 8th Annual Hong Kong Film Awards
• Winner - Best Supporting Actress (Sara Lee Lai-Yui)
Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Joy Sales (HK)
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
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image courtesy of Mega Star Video Distribution, Ltd.
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