City on Fire (1993)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2011-04-04
Summary: Hyperkenetic crime drama
There are a lot of reasons to watch “City on Fire” in addition to its iconic status as the template for nihilistic, everyone dead at the end Hong Kong police dramas—and incidentally as the inspiration for “Reservoir Dogs”, Quentin Tarantino’s much inferior testosterone-fest. It starts in the opening credits—the title card that reads “Introducing Roy Cheung and Carrie Ng”. Roy Cheung was excellent as the young police inspector on the make, strutting around in his tailored uniforms and superior air, trying to wrest control of an anti-crime operation from tired old Suen Yuet. The young Carrie Ng is monstrously beautiful; as Chow Yun-Fat’s on again off again fiancé she doesn’t have much of a part but she is memorable due to the way the camera loves her.

Chow Yun-Fat was in the beginning of possibly the greatest run of amazing roles and superb performances by any movie actor ever. From “A Better Tomorrow” in 1986 through “The Killer” in 1989 he worked with the top directors in Hong Kong and created some of the most memorable and emblematic characters ever to be projected onto a screen. Here his undercover cop Ko Chow, a man who has lost his moral compass and who simply wants to get out of an impossible situation, is very much in line with his other great anti-heroes of the period.

Hong Kong itself looked tacky, flashy and impermanent. No shots of the harbor or from the Peak here; the skyline might as well not existed. The camera stayed earthbound with crowded streets and gaudy neon serving as a fitting backdrop to the poorly planned and sloppily executed robberies. Police managers were interested more in defending their turf or carving out new areas to control than in stopping crime or helping the men and women under their command. Senior commanders wanted to stay far away from any of the messy parts of policing and tried to ignore the constant arguments (and occasional fistfights) in station houses. Policemen on the beat were there mainly to be shot dead by robbers.

“City on Fire” is a hyperkinetic crime drama in which peace officers and the criminal underworld are inextricably linked in webs of lies, guilt and fear with ultimately little to separate them
Reviewer Score: 8