City on Fire
Director: Ringo Lam
Stars: Chow Yun-Fat, Danny Lee, Parkman Wong, Elvis Tsui, Roy Cheung, Carrie Ng, Lau Kong
A reluctant undercover cop (Chow) is forced to complete one last job -- infiltrate a gang of jewel thieves led by Lee. Things get complicated when the cop and criminal become friends as they head off to pull the gang's biggest job ever.
City on Fire is probably most famous in the West as the movie that provided some of the inspiration for Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs. Some people have said that Reservoir Dogs is a total rip-off of City on Fire, but really Reservoir Dogs only shares some similarities; only one shot in Reservoir Dogs is totally swiped, where Mr. White blasts the cop car.
Unlike the fast-talking, pop-culture referencing gangsters of Reservoir Dogs, the characters in City on Fire are somber and serious. Even though there is some comic relief when Chow tries to sweet-talk his girlfriend (Carrie Ng in her first role), the movie (like many of Ringo Lam's other films) has a dark and bleak tone to it. Most of the action in the movie occurs not through the use of guns (though the finale has its share of bloodshed), but from the confrontations between Chow and the various people in his life (as well as his own inner demons).
A good film probably worth watching (for US fans, at least) for the curiosity factor alone. It's a well-made police/gangster drama that set the tone for many films that followed it -- it's just too bad that it hasn't aged as well as some of Ringo Lam's other work, though it still provides a good night's entertainment.
Dimension has recently released a version of the film. Like most of their releases of HK movies, it has been cut. It is hard to tell exactly how much has been cut, since the US version actually runs longer due to the new title and end credit sequences, but here are a few of the differences:
- The US version, as you might guess, has been dubbed. The dub is pretty good for the most part, but it changes the movie a bit. For instance, when Uncle Lau is showing Chow the dead undercover cop, the dubbing in the US version ("Hong Kong won't miss him") doesn't show as much how deep Chow has gone undercover. There are several clumsy attempts to "Americanize" the dialogue a bit. When Uncle Lau is drunk, he says "I might as well just be pissing on the fires in this city", which doesn't flow very well (the dubbing also makes him seem more drunk). Also, there are a few attempts to work in humor which doesn't work (one of the robbers says "Show me the money" ala Jerry Maguire before the heist).
- The score has been totally re-done. It's the usual guitar rock/techno that Dimension tends to favor in their dubbing (at least there is no rap). The new score is okay, but it loses the atmospheric flavor of the original.
- The first scene where the undercover cop is killed has been slightly trimmed (the end bit where he is wrapped in the sheet and stabbed).
- Chow's confrontation with the man who is sleeping with Carrie Ng has been almost totally cut out.
- Maria Cordero's song about how tough life is for the working class has been taken out and replaced with an English one about sex. The sequence that plays during the song (where Chow is eluding the police) has been trimmed.
- The sequence where Danny Lee shoots the cop in the head during the robbery has been trimmed.
- Chow's torture scene has been trimmed.
- A bit after the torture where Uncle Lau convinces Chow to stay on the case has been deleted.
- The final robbery has several small cuts for violence, the most notable being a close-up shot of Danny Lee shooting the two cops in a car.
For those that are interested here are the things borrowed from City on Fire in Reservoir Dogs according to the Quentin Tarantino FAQ (I have added some notes in [brackets]:
However, "City on Fire", a Hong Kong action movie directed by Ringo Lam in 1987 is by far the biggest influence on "Reservoir Dogs". Tarantino has used a number of ideas in the film and these are worth outlining:
- Just before the robbers in City on Fire rob a jewelery store, one
of them says "Let's go to work".
- The relationship between Chow (the undercover cop) and Fu (the
gangster) is mirrored by that of Orange and White. [there is also a similar relationship with Chow and his supervisor/Mr. Orange and Holdaway]
- One of the gang members kills a shop girl in the jewelery shop
for setting off the alarm. [not shown in RD, but it is talked about]
- There is a scene where Chow is shot by a cop and kills him (Orange
is shot by a woman and kills her) while Fu is shooting cops in a car
by shooting at them with two guns, when they must try and escape after their getaway car crashes.
- In the warehouse there is a Mexican standoff.
- A dying Chow tells Fu that he is a cop.
- [In Tarantino's original script, there was a scene similar to the one in COF where Chow talks to his superior and wants off the case becuase he's in too deep involving Mr. Orange/Freddy. The scene was filmed but not put in the finished movie.]
- [During the jewelery store robbery in COF, Danny Lee stabs the manager in the hand when he won't open the safe. In RD, Mr. White relates a similar way he gets managers to talk.]
A review of the DVD for this movie (US version) can be found by clicking here
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