First Shot (1993)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2006-06-13
Summary: Been there, shot that....
“First Shot” was based on or derivative from a few earlier works which does not, in itself, make it inferior either to the earlier movies or to other films in which the borrowing is less obvious. The structure and plots of “Throne of Blood”, “Hamlet” and “Don Giovanni” weren’t original with Kurosawa, Shakespeare or Mozart—the genius lies much more in the execution of the idea than in the genesis of the idea itself. While David Lam’s opus doesn’t bear comparison to such masterpieces it is by no means a bad movie.

There were several specific references to the Mamet/DePalma “The Untouchables”, one of which was rendered somewhere between incomprehensible and risible by the subtitles: “If he shoots you with a gun you kick him the ass...” but the bludgeoning of a disloyal underling by Al Capone was mirrored very effectively when Brother Chiu amputated a thug’s thumb with a cigar cutter at a small celebratory dinner. A battle toward the end of the movie took place in a sawmill that was closed for the day, typical of many fights in many Hong Kong movies occurring in abandoned or closed factories. Waise Lee was properly repellent as Mr. Chiu, known as the Faucet or the Tap, the person around whom all official misconduct in the Crown Colony revolved. Baat Leung-Gam was his scary and effective killer, equally at adept using his fists, a gun or his watch garrote. There were enough clueless stiff upper lip Colonial Office types for a cricket side, an outrageously campy gay accountant and a couple of good guys who the we got to know well enough that we were sad when they got killed.

Maggie Cheung was at the end of her amazing run of over fifty movies in six years when “First Shot” was made and it may have helped her decide that impersonating herself in Paris was preferable to walking through a role that consisted of looking fetching while acting peeved. The costume designer did a wonderful job for her—she first appeared in a clingy red knit dress, next in a well cut ivory suit and a few times in slacks made of some very thin material that outlined her lovely derriere perfectly. Her character was unnecessary to the story and possibly included either as a relief from the otherwise testosterone fueled mayhem or for simple star power. If it was the latter it worked, since I probably would not have bothered seeing it if she hadn’t been on the credits.

The fight scenes were generally well done, quick and brutal and someone was lying dead at the end of each of them. Weapons included fists, feet, policemen’s batons, the porcelain top of a toilet tank, a sledge hammer and a huge log. The very first fight set a tone of ruthlessness and barbarity that was hard to top, taking place in the extremely closed-in space of a darkened stairwell. Hong Kong directors and fight choreographers are masters at using tiny, almost claustrophobic areas to heighten the viciousness of battles to the death and this was an excellent example of that. Gun fights were barely acceptable—lots of rounds fired by everyone, very few hits other than by Baat Leung-Gam who only missed once. Ti Lung survived a bullet to the brain but Kong Man-Sing and Andy Hui did not.

There was incessant talk of busses in the first thirty minutes of so of the movie—people were constantly telling each other that the bus full of corrupt money was leaving and if you didn’t want to be on it you shouldn’t stand in front of it. Additionally bomb left on a bus showed far Mr. Chiu’s evil hand could reach into the top levels of Hong Kong government. Thankfully this image pattern was abandoned while it was still just annoying.

Recommended, but not very highly—distinguished mainly by Maggie Cheung’s costume changes and Baat Leung-Gam’s over the top insane killer.
Reviewer Score: 6