Year of release: 1988

Genre: crime

Running time: 91 min.

Directors: Johnnie To, Andrew Kam

Script: Gordon Chan

Action directors: Joe Chu, Kwok Tsui, Wong Kwung

Producer: Tsui Hark

Cinematography: Wong Wing Hang

Editor: David Wu

Music: Tayu Lo

Stars: Waise Lee, Joey Wong, Wong Hin Mung, Phillip Kwok, Chu Kong, Stuart Ong, Michael Chow, Roy Cheung, Robin Shou

Rated IIB for violence and language

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The Big Heat

The Big Heat

After the success of A Better Tomorrow, there were literally dozens and dozens of copycats looking to get on the bandwagon. The Big Heat is among those movies; it's pretty much the usual story of a cop pushed too far and looking for revenge. The film-makers try to liven things up with a heavy dose of violence, and this helps to seperate it from the pack. But, ultimately, average craftsmanship and mediocre acting bring it down somewhat.

In the movie, Waise Lee plays a cop who wants to retire due to his hand being crippled, but decides to take one last case after he finds out a drug lord (Chu Kong) killed his former partner. Lee forms the usual rag-tag team (the hardened old vet, the enthusiastic rookie, etc.) and sets out to bring Chu down. Even after being (you guessed it) taken off the case, Lee and his team press on. But is it already too late?

Well, I'm sure you already know the answer. The Big Heat follows the "cop movie rulebook" all the way, down to one of the team being snuffed out and providing inspiration, the standard dumb gweilo commander, and an "interesting" way for Lee's crippled hand to come into play during the climax. This isn't a bad thing in and of itself. The Big Heat just has a "been there, done that" feeling, especially when compared to other crime/action films of the time -- specifically those by John Woo and Ringo Lam, who were still fully in their prime at this point.

The Big Heat

It doesn't help matters that the script is really underwritten. None of the characters are really developed at all, and there are several (such as Joey Wong, in a total "flower vase" role) that really didn't need to be in the film at all. Combined with the less-than-stellar acting (Waise Lee is really not cut out to be a leading man), things could have been really bad.

However, as with many cheap crime movies of the period, the action in The Big Heat is really well-done. Done under three action directors, the stuff here is fast, brutal and violent. In just the first ten minutes, a drill goes through someone's hand, a guy's brains are splattered all over the wall and some poor sap is run over several times. Later on, Robin Shou is chopped in half by elevators, which is definitely one of the coolest "kills" I have seen in a movie like this. As a whole, the gunfights are staged very well and help elevate the movie, even during the parts when there isn't a lot of blood on-screen.

Even though the ultra-violence is fun, there's too many "dead" periods between it where the movie's shortcomings shine through. As I said before, The Big Heat isn't horrible or even bad, it's just the same thing over again, albeit with a bloodier body count. If you're a fan of the genre, this is worth checking out -- just set your expectations a bit lower.

The Big Heat