Burning Paradise (1994)

Reviewed by: MrBooth
Date: 11/12/2012
Summary: Gothic and macabre wire fu from Ringo Lam

The Manchus are invading, and the Shaolin Temple is burned to the ground. Fleeing from the scene, student Fong Sai Yuk (Willie Chi) and his teacher bump into Carman Lee, then get captured by soldiers. They are taken to the Red Lotus Temple, where an errant general has established an underground lair and indulges in cruelty and power games, whilst descending into madness.

BURNING PARADISE marks Ringo Lam's only venture into period martial arts films, coming near the end of the early 90's wire fu boom. Ringo Lam's films usually have quite a distinctive character, but BURNING PARADISE doesn't feel much like a Ringo Lam film at all, and it is tempting to assume that this was one of those cases where Tsui Hark struggled with boundary issues in his role as producer on the film.

BURNING PARADISE was the first film appearance for Willie Chi, and there were not too many more to follow it. Quite why Hong Kong keeps making these occasional pitches to establish new martial arts stars, giving lead roles and seemingly substantial budgets to unknown actors based on what can hardly have been compelling evidence that they are justified remains a mystery. Willie Chi is handsome enough, but doesn't show much charisma or acting talent, and his martial arts skills don't seem to have been anything too special based on the heavy reliance on stunt doubles for most of his fight scenes.

Carman Lee is also given an 'introducing' tag in the credits, though HKMDB assigns her a couple of earlier appearances. Her career wasn't terribly long-lived either, though she did manage to make a favourable impression on me in several roles (based more on aesthetic considerations than thespian agility, I suppose).

The film features a generally low profile cast, with supporting actor Yeung Sing playing Hung Hei Koon with far more sincerity than Willie Chi brings to his lead role, and Maggie Lam at least offering a shade of Brigitte Lin's villainous charms at times. The bad guys generally fair better than the heroes here, with the film mainly belonging to Wong Kam-Kong, whose maniacal villain is by far the most interesting character, and whose performance actually has some depth and uniqueness. Effective use is made of his talents as a painter, too.

The one thing that does make Ringo Lam's involvement in BURNING PARADISE seem likely to have been genuine is that it has a darker tone than most of its contemporaries, with great production design and a rather gothic/macabre atmosphere - somewhat reminiscent of some of Chor Yuen's films (a closer reference point for BURNING PARADISE than any of Chang Cheh's films featuring the same characters). Comedy is kept to a minimum, though there are a few gags which seem all the more out of place as a result (and I'm betting were inserted by Tsui Hark when Ringo popped to the loo or something).

BURNING PARADISE was amongst the first Hong Kong films I saw, being available on VHS in the UK long before I discovered DVDs (and the joys of importing them). For many years I'd carried around a memory of an excellent film - one of my favourites, in fact. Watching it again some 15 years later I find that actuality and memory are not quite in accord. Whilst there are a few scenes that are genuinely great, I found the overall package to be a bit lacking, and towards the end I found myself clock-watching and hoping that it wouldn't run much over 90 minutes (it doesn't).

When I rewatch a film I used to love and find myself disappointed I can never quite decide how much of the disparity is due to me being young and naive when I first saw it, or being old and jaded now. I have certainly seen a lot more films in the genre since I first saw BURNING PARADISE, so things that once impressed me as fabulously new, creative and unique now find themselves assessed in a much more complete context, in which those qualities are less apparent. As I've become more knowledgable about the technicalities involved, the way in which I parse action scenes (which are a major part of the film) has also changed... I am now far more aware of stunt doubles, camera tricks, and the use of props and prosthetics etc. As a result, I tend to 'read' scenes as a list of edits, angles and techniques rather than as the coherent visual narrative that my less knowledgable self would have perceived. Whilst I may be a wiser person, I can't say that I'm a better person for this, as it has definitely reduced my ability to enjoy the action choreography which used to thrill me in films of this genre.

I think this is the largest factor in my failing to enjoy BURNING PARADISE as much as I had expected to - when I first saw it, the fight choreography struck me as wonderfully imaginative and brilliantly executed, but now I am more focussed on the flaws such as the obvious need to double Willie Chi in any moves that are remotely acrobatic. I think this is more a flaw in myself than a flaw in the film though, so I have marked it down less harshly than I was tempted to.

There are still moments in the film that approach greatness, though I found that I was now more drawn in by the set designs, the richness of Wong Kam-Kong's character and the gothic visuals (in which his paintings are an important component) than the wired up fight scenes which so impressed me as a younger viewer. I would probably have rated it as a 9/10 when I first saw it, but found myself hovering nearer a 6 on this repeat viewing. Let's call it a 7 to be fair.

One of the reasons I had not rewatched the film for such a long time is that it was cheated of a DVD release for a very long time. I don't believe it has ever been released in Hong Kong, and it was only in 2010 that it got its first official (?) DVD release, in the United States from Discotek Media. That's not the version I watched though - I dusted off the VHS :-)


Reviewer Score: 7

Reviewed by: kenjirro
Date: 04/18/2003
Summary: Willie Chi simply rulez

When I bought Burning paradise I didn't know what to expect. I didn't know who willie chi was. The only reason I bought this movies because ringo lam directed it.

This movie is really great. The movie has a lot of great fightscenes. The use of wires was limited. We saw all kinds of battles. swords, speers and even paper was used as a weapon. The comedy was a little bit crude only it was entertaining. The story was quitte simple only that is not a bad thing. The characters were interesting. The acting was great too. Willie Chi hasn't become a star. It is a shame that he has not become a star.


Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: Dyogenez
Date: 11/17/2002
Summary: something from nothing

I wasn't expecting much from this movie. It is a (somewhat) old martial arts movie, in the usual style of them. Not too much story, but lots of action. Some of the fight scenes were quite original, with a number of matches under some fun circumstances. The little bit of storyline is based around a young man who gets captured and put in prison in the Red Temple, a very hellish and scarry looking cavern prison. Everything around it seems to amplify the scarry nature of it. They are, in effect, trying to escape from Hell in this one. I'm not too much of a fan of straight out KungFu without a storyline, so i'll pass on this one.


Reviewer Score: 4

Reviewed by: Sydneyguy
Date: 03/09/2002
Summary: Worth a look

Ok it's not the best martial arts movie out there, but it's still very good.

The plot is quite simple, shoalin monks are captured and forced to work for the government. Fong sai Yuk first attempts to attack Elder Kung, but he is stopped and fights with his "brother" Hung Hei Goon (the character that Jet li plays in NEw legend of shaolin) but not all is what they seem.

WOW some of the parts were quite bloody and so is some of the fighting. The fighting scenes themselves was done well but i am still not very satisfied by the last duel.

I think this movie, like Operation scorpio, are very under rated martial arts movies.


Reviewer Score: 7

Reviewed by: RLM
Date: 11/01/2001
Summary: Where to begin...

As you can tell from the rest of the reviews, this film delivers at times and bores you with slow pace at others. The crane/tiger duels between the lead and supporting actor are worth the watch. Beware - lots of wire work in this one. The plot is simplistic but then again, that makes it easy to follow (which can't be said for many other HK films). I wasn't impressed with the antagonist although the 'death-paint' technique was interesting. Most fight senes won't live up to those spoiled by Jet Li. I did like the sets. The fight scene involving the canopy bed as well as the old master in the death-pit were mildly amusing; but only. Having said all of that - I give it - 5/10.

Reviewer Score: 5

Reviewed by: pjshimmer
Date: 08/26/2001
Summary: tsui hark and ringo lam... damn

The best way to put this film: it's simply not very good. The lead actor (whoever he is) who plays Fong Sai Yuk here pretty much ruined the movie. He fails miserabaly trying to live up to a character formerly played by Jet Li, and does much worse than Zhao Wen Zhou did in OUATIC 4-5. I mean, this guy here, he looks like a burned frog with curly hair (that part was real), while not being able to give good, convincing fights. Overall, you just can't compare him with Jet Li; they don't even come close.

Luckily, there were some pretty nice stunts & events within the movie that were able to save the audiences from throwing the video out the window.

It's pretty slow-paced. As I was watching the first 30 minutes or so of the film, I was so bored that I wanted to fast forward even during fights. (which is something I never do when watching a movie for the first time) The beginning was that horrible. However, as soon as everyone is captured and put into the Red Lotus Temple, the tense is heated up and things really start to get interesting. Great acting and script, and the director certain did a good job making this an intensive, scary, and at times, suspsenseful piece. But the best part of the movie is yet to be announced: tis none other than silly and hilarious conversations. they were perfectly prepared and delivered, and definitely served as a positive factor to the movie. Some of it will make you laugh, others will make you laugh even harder, especially if you understand what they're actually saying in Chinese. Some phrases and sentences just can't be translated into English with their original traditional Chinese meanings. Also, if I may say so, the movie is very unique in its sucessful plot taken place inside the temple, where there're deadly traps and stunts everywhere - Kinda reminds you of the "HOUSE OF TRAPS".

However, the atmosphere of the movie did not make me feel good. Too much violence, totally uncharasmatic actors, and the overall icky scenery which made this movie look like a 1990 episode of Xena. The action u see here is not good at all, especially during the beginning of the film. In fact, the action here is a joke. Lady Assassin from 11 years ago and the chessiest Wong Jing (period-set) movies involve more sophisticated action. But the worst of all, an ugly old tattoed dude tries to have sex with the lead actress. The position he was trying to get in just completely degraded the film. IT'S SICK!! And even worse, that ugly dude reminds me of my host mom from my study abroad! UGH!!!!!! Now u understand why I will never watch this movie again in my life.

Tsui Hark must have lost his direction after falling out with Jet Li.


Reviewer Score: 6

Reviewed by: grimes
Date: 04/08/2000

t's Indiana Jones kungfu style! Here's the story: Willie Chi plays our hero, Shaolin student Fong Sai Yuk (no relation to Jet
Li). A very young looking Carman Lee plays the love interest. The bad guys capture a whole bunch of Shaolin students and
force them to work as slave labor in the Red Lotus Temple. Among those captured are Willie Chi and Carman Lee (not a

The Red Lotus temple is filled with both soldiers and traps. The bulk of the movie is basically Willie running around the
temple like a kungfu madman fighting with people, trying to save the other students and Carman Lee, and avoiding traps
Indiana Jones style.

Not much of a plot, but who really cares? This film is fantastically entertaining. Willie Chi, while he may not be the world's
greatest actor, is great fun to watch. So are the other martial artists in the film. They are choreographed fabulously, bringing
to mind some of my favorite fight scenes from Fong Sai Yuk and Wing Chun.

There is also a lot of good humor in the film. There are numerous little quips that pop up at the oddest times, which puts it
even more firmly into the same territory as Fong Sai Yuk and Wing Chun.

There really isn't much more to say about this film. It's not deep. It won't make you think. That doesn't matter. You will have
fun. You will laugh. You will be entertained.

Reviewed by: SUPERCOP
Date: 12/27/1999
Summary: A different side of Ringo Lam....

Director Ringo Lam ventures away from modern realism to direct this cynical, claustrophobic martial arts epic. Newcomer Willie Chi stars as Chinese folk hero Fong Sai Yuk, an imprisoned martial artist who must team up with fellow hero Hung Hei-kwan in order to defeat a powerful dictator and escape from a booby trap laden temple. Superb cinematography sets the dark tone of this production. That element, along with fast paced editing and slick wire-fu helps rank this one among Lam's most accomplished films.

Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: leh
Date: 12/09/1999

I thought it was great, one of the better martial arts movies recently. It had some good sets and managed to be quite scary, and I liked the mix of straight martial arts and magic.

Reviewed by: hokazak
Date: 12/09/1999

A young, unknown actor plays Fong Sai Yuk as a sword-wielding Shaolin monk being held prisoner - along with most of the other surviving Shaolin monks - in the booby-trap laden "Red Lotus Temple." [Special quote, by one of the bad guys in the middle of a huge battle: "Who squeezed my dick?"]

Reviewed by: hkcinema
Date: 12/08/1999

The Shaolin Temple wants to get rid of the evil Ching government. The government gets wind of this and destroys the Shaolin Temple and then hunts down the remaining Shaolin monks. Fong Sai Yuk (Willie Chi) and his uncle Maser Chi Nun run into Tou Tou (Carmen Lee) who has run away from being a prostitute- she was sold into it by her family). Unfortunately, Crimson, one of Elder Kung's henchmen captures Fong and Tou and kills his uncle. They are taken to the Red Lotus Temple where Elder Kung rules and where no one can escape from the numerous traps. From there Fong tries to liberate the other monks and to destroy the Red Lotus Temple. This is a great flick with tons of good kung fu (and its not too heavy on the wire works either). The actor who plays Elder Kung is great-you really will believe has totally lost his mind. Highly Recommended.


[Reviewed by Adam Scott Pritzker]

Reviewed by: hkcinema
Date: 12/08/1999

Apparently, the movie that was supposed to introduce the world to the lead actor, Willie Chin. Haven't heard of him? Maybe that's because he was touted as the next Jet Li but is nowhere near as good a martial artist, nor does he ooze charm the way Jet can. This is a good film, but it gets pretty weird in a couple of places. The bad guy is one of those dudes that can break chains with a paintbrush, and use pieces of paper as deadly cutting weapons. The end is a bit unsatisfying, but the movie as a whole is pretty good.


[Reviewed by Dale Whitehouse]

Reviewed by: hkcinema
Date: 12/08/1999

The government sacks the Shaolin temple and imprisons themonks in an isolated fortress run by a quasi-religious lunatic (who also keeps a harem). Fong Sai Yuk and Hong Hei Koon eventually team up to escape. Fairly run-of-the-mill vehicle for promoting "the new Jet Li", who isn't anything like Jet Li. The fighting scenes are mostly wire-free, but this isn't necessarily an attraction.

[Reviewed by Iain Sinclair]

Reviewed by: hkcinema
Date: 12/08/1999

Fong Sai Yuk is back, and again the result is a great movie filled with action, fantasy and drama. Willi Chi is not as good as Jet Li, but he manages to do a great job anyway.

[Reviewed by Martin Sauvageau]