Full Contact (1992)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2005-09-17
“Full Contact” is a crime melodrama in which Chow Yun Fat faces off against a very odd, deadly and repellent gang of killers. Chow’s character, Jeff, is certainly no angel—his only positive trait is loyalty which he carries to ridiculous extremes. But the other guys—perhaps the other bad guys would be a better way to characterize them—led by the fey Judge (Simon Yam at his leering best) make Jeff look like the reincarnation of Dr. Sun Yat Sen.

Jeff is a bouncer in a bar who wants to marry Mona (his stripper girlfriend nicely played by Ann Bridgewater) and return to Hong Kong from Bangkok with his mother’s ashes. He doesn’t quite make it--his best friend Sam (Anthony Wong) has been kidnapped by a local loan shark who expects Jeff to pay his debt. Instead Jeff cuts his way through most of the tough guys there, humiliates the loan shark and goes on the run with Sam and Mona. Judge, Sam’s cousin, is planning a daring hijacking and needs some extra firepower. In one of the worst tactical alliances in movie history the two groups decide to work together for the big payday.

It goes wrong from the beginning—actually from before the beginning. Judge’s crew includes Madman, a muscular, mohawked brute who communicates by grunting or firing his always present machine gun. His girlfriend, Virgin, likes to masturbate and throw grenades. Judge and Jeff immediately hate each other and the sense of betrayal is overpowering and obvious to everyone but Jeff.

The target is a truck full of explosives and ammunition which Judge has been retained by steal. The heist goes wrong from the beginning and the two crews are more interested in killing each other than in getting away with the truck. After several explosions, a very well done joust between cars driven by Judge and Jeff, hundreds of rounds fired, one orgasm (Virgin), a shocking bit of treachery by Sam and the slaughter of an innocent family Jeff is left for dead. In what might be a homage (or at least a nod) to Kung Fu movies, Jeff recuperates at a Buddhist monastery. This monastery lacks an all-important aspect though—it doesn’t have a monk who teaches the sanctuary seeking refugee the Kung Fu he needs to defeat his enemy.

But monks are able to fit prosthetic fingers—Jeff has lost a forefinger and thumb to Judge’s knife—and the monastery has plenty of room for a shooting range so that Jeff can learn to be as deadly with a gun in his left hand as he formerly was using his right. He conditions himself in a makeshift gym, swims a powerful butterfly stroke against the current of a river and relearns his unarmed combat skills. He is now ready to go after Judge and his crew, now retained by the loan shark that Jeff humiliated.

A few things have changed. Mona, thinking Jeff dead, has fallen in love with Sam. Sam, capable of incredible perfidy, is now a thug who enjoys shooting people. Judge has an omnipresent pouting boytoy. Some things haven’t changed--Virgin and Madman are still as crazy and repulsive as ever.

Sam tries to ameliorate his guilt at having double-crossed Jeff and secretly works with him to discover where the stolen ammunition is cached. Adding to the tension is his relationship with Mona. Jeff, deciding that vengeance against Judge his more important than Mona, tells them to work things out themselves.

They find the location of the ammunition after a showdown with some of Judge’s thugs in a beautifully photographed confrontation in a commercial icehouse. It was shot through a blue filter so that some images, like red blood on ice, are very striking. Like all the action scenes, this one was extremely violent and bloody, and full of suspense—even though the audience knew who had to be alive at the end of any shootout, the icehouse scene, the confrontation in the nightclub and the final showdown between Jeff and Judge were very well paced and plotted so that the ultimate outcome always seemed in doubt.

While Chow Yun Fat is the protagonist in “Full Contact” there is no real hero, no one that the audience can empathize with and root for. It is easy to want the really bad guys to lose— Judge is the next best thing to Lucifer but Madman and Virgin become more annoying than evil before they are finally disposed of—but Jeff has no real motivation other than revenge and a tacked on at the very end need to give ten million dollars to a girl disfigured in the explosive showdown after the heist.

Ringo Lam does his very best to make Jeff and Judge parallel characters, trying to make us like Jeff. Toward the end of the movie he does everything but run a trailer across the screen pointing this out. He cuts from one to the other, each doing the same thing. He cuts from Jeff who says “We thieves have to die with a clean conscience” to Judge who says “Talk of a code of honor and you are dead.” But while technically proficient this device doesn’t work—Chow Yun Fat has spent the entire movie shooting, stabbing and blowing up people but doesn’t have a trace of the perverted nobility he does in so many other ordinance driven roles. Jeff is a tough guy but he is no Mark Gor or Tequila.

Recommended for fans of Chow Yun Fat, Ringo Lam and great action photography, including the bullet cam.

Reviewer Score: 7