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火燒島 (1990)
Island of Fire

Reviewed by: Harlock
Date: 09/13/2007
Summary: stabby rip stab stab

i saw first this movie when i was just liking Jackie Chan movies, thanks to that movie, it opened my eyes to see more HK movies.

Reviewer Score: 10

Reviewed by: Chinoco
Date: 08/29/2006
Summary: Great Prison Movie

How is this movie listed as one of the worst on HKMDB? C’mon guys, this is a fun movie, and after all, how can you hate a movie with Jackie Chan, Sammo, Andy Lau, and Tony Leung? I find myself going back to watch this movie all the time. Let me explain some of the reasons I like it so much.

Island of Fire (or: Jackie Chan is the Prisoner, in a misleading alternate title) is about a group of criminals and there various adventures in prison. Everybody has there own mission or problems to deal with. Tony Leung is an undercover cop trying to solve some bizarre murders that are somehow connected to the Prison. Sammo is trying to break out of jail to spend more time with his son. Jackie kills a gang member who had injured his girlfriend. Finally, the gang member turns out to be Andy Lau’s character’s brother. Jackie gets sent to prison, and Lau gets himself arrested on purpose so he can get his revenge. Each of these characters has a goal in mind, and the movie follows each of them closely.

Surprisingly, out of the four actors, the lead role in this film is given to Tony Leung. Even more amazingly- he is able to pull it off! For once Jackie is not the lead, and he also does a great job playing a very serious role for a change. I like the way that his fights are for real this time. They come across as very violent with out any goofing around. This movie has it all, a great plot, drama, good characterizations, and excellent fight chorography and action. I admit that I love the prison film genre, and this movie has all of the key elements of one to make it successful: fights, corrupt guards, and escape plans to name a few.

Jimmy Wang Yu portrays the veteran of the prison, and he does it quite well in his small role. Forget all the rumors about Jackie and Sammo being forced to appear in the film for Triad reasons and just enjoy it for what it is. If nothing else, the action filled ending is very original to say the least. If the climax doesn’t shock you- then not much will. Check out the excellent Hong Kong Legends release of the film if you can. It has several deleted scenes that do a very good job clearing up the admittedly murky plot.

To sum it up: no, this movie isn’t Shakespeare, but it isn’t trying to be either. It’s just a very entertaining prison movie with an all star cast!

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: ewaffle
Date: 01/17/2006
Summary: Dreadfully derivative and dull

There are several ways to avoid going to prison. Most of us chose the easy way—don’t commit crimes. Others, who make their living as criminals, try to avoid it by not getting caught—or if they do get caught, testifying against accomplices or other ways to make deals. In “Island of Fire”, however, both Andy Lau and Tony Leung Ka-Fai want to get into prison. Both succeed in perfectly parallel ways. Leung is a police officer who beats up a bunch of criminals and waits to be arrested. Lau is a criminal who beats up a police officer.

Once in prison the inmates, including Sammo Hung and Jackie Chan are overwhelmed with conventions and cliches that have been mined from the rich vein of jail movies and dropped, in some cases almost without alteration, into this one. Chungking Cash mentioned the Sean Penn movie “Bad Boys”. In addition to the similarities he pointed out, the main indoor set is taken directly from “Bad Boys”—it could have been the same set. It is a two tiered jail, with cells on the bottom floor surrounding a large bullpen area, all enclosed by heavy chain link fencing, with more cells on a mezzanine overlooking the bullpen. Also like “Bad Boys” (and like a lot of other prison movies) new inmates have to walk a gauntlet of tough convicts when they are first brought onto the unit. Other scenes, including even the old-as-nitrate-film-stock searchlight on the prison wall, the armed guards circulating among the prisoners and the tough convict who actually ran things, have been seen in “I Was a Fugitive from a Chain Gang”, “Angels With Dirty Faces” and “White Heat”, among others. Many others. Somehow the script writers missed “Reform School Girls” and “Chained Heat”, but probably not by much.

The main source for “Island of Fire”, though, is “Cool Hand Luke”, to the extent that Strother Martin would not have seemed terribly out of place telling the newly arrived inmates that “any man loud talking spends a night in the box” and “any man caught smoking in bed spends a night in the box”. A scene in which the convicts on a chain gang doing road maintenance finish early is from the Newman picture, as is the appearance of a comely lass with car trouble, an attempted escape while “shaking that tree, boss” and the egg eating (here rice eating) ordeal, plus, I am sure, several more that I missed. Foo Laap, Yip Wan-Chiu and Chu Yen-Ping really liked “Cool Hand Luke”. One direct reference is to another prison movie, when Sammo Hung’s cellmate tells him “I’ve seen The Great Escape and you aren’t Steve McQueen”.

“Bonnie and Clyde” shows up when a car is riddled with bullets in slow motion and even “Gallipoli” takes a turn very late in the movie when Jackie Chan and Andy Lau are stopped (dead) in a freeze frame as bullets slam into them.

Finding references to other movies was the only way I was able to make watching “Island of Fire” entertaining or even endurable. The very able cast might as well be sleepwalking through their underwritten roles. Jackie Chan’s part was obviously tacked on—he had almost no interaction with the other characters other than a mega-gunfight at the end and a knife fight with Andy Lau earlier. Lau never connected with the movie—one of his strengths as an actor is his coolness, his ability to play a part while not completely inhabiting it. In this case he just showed up and said his lines. Sammo may not be capable of giving a truly bad performance—he was able to transcend the wretched triteness of this script. Jimmy Wang Yu took time off from producing the flick to be a properly repellent prison boss who also set up contract murders and ran drugs from Southeast Asia.

Reviewer Score: 1

Reviewed by: Libretio
Date: 10/18/2005
Summary: Fiery thriller, compromised by cuts


Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Sound format: Mono

Though Jackie Chan is top-billed in Zhu Yan-ping's ISLAND OF FIRE, he plays a secondary role in this (virtually) all-male Taiwanese action-drama, which attends the fortunes of four honorable men who break the law and are subsequently incarcerated in a corrupt prison, ruled by violence and intimidation. Main player Tony Leung Ka-fai (PRISON ON FIRE, DRAGON INN) is a CID agent who goes undercover as a prisoner to investigate the murder of his fiancee's grandfather by a former inmate who's been registered as 'deceased' for several years; Chan is a victim of circumstances who killed a ruthless gangster in self-defence; actor-singer Andy Lau (THE ADVENTURERS, SHANGHAI GRAND) is the gangster's brother, who bribes his way into the jail in search of vengeance; and ever-popular Sammo Hung (TV's 'Martial Law') is an experienced lifer who escapes on regular occasions to spend precious time with his young son. Each of these characters are tested to their limits by the prison's cruel regime - which includes torture, murder, and a hideous form of gambling in which new inmates are forced to fight the reigning jailhouse 'champion' for the financial benefit of staff and pisoners alike - until an abrupt twist near the end of the film sends the whole thing spiralling off in a completely new and unexpected direction...

Chan filmed his extended cameo during production of his mega-spectacular ARMOUR OF GOD II: OPERATION CONDOR (1991) as a favor to producer and co-star Jimmy Wang Yu (veteran of countless kung fu dramas of the 1960's and 70's, including ONE-ARMED BOXER [1971] and BEACH OF THE WAR GODS [1973]), and while there are a number of eye-catching fight scenes - notably the showdown between Chan and Lau - the film emphasizes hard-hitting melodrama over full-tilt action sequences, paying homage to the likes of COOL HAND LUKE (1967) whilst employing a wealth of prison cliches to examine the lives of characters under extreme duress. But the structure is half-hearted and unconvincing, and for all its drama and high emotion, the film seems merely contrived and superficial, lacking any sense of thematic credibility. Which is a shame, because the performances are uniformly good (especially Hung, as a devoted father whose loyalty to his son ends in tragedy), and the low-budget production values are solid. Fu Lap's melancholy score is bolstered by a range of music cues 'borrowed' from the likes of TOURIST TRAP (1978) and BODY DOUBLE (1984), and director Zhu (noted helmer of A HOME TOO FAR [1991] and the "Shaolin Popey" comedies) keeps the pot boiling throughout. Incidentally, Zhu is credited on-screen as 'Chu Yen-ping'.

The print under review is the shorter 'international' version, as opposed to the original Taiwanese print which ran approximately 20 minutes longer and appears to have been curtailed at the whim of some anonymous distributor. Some of the missing footage is excessively melodramatic, particularly an extended subplot involving Leung's brave but fragile cellmate (Tuo Zong-hua, later the star of Yim Ho's THE DAY THE SUN TURNED COLD [1994]) who's fleeced by a corrupt lawyer, but most of it simply extends existing sequences, crucially underlining their emotional impact and strengthening the characterizations. As it stands, the shorter version is an OK potboiler, worth a look for its all-star cast and jaw-dropping plot developments, but the film is a mere shadow of its former self. Originally released in America and on UK video as THE PRISONER.

Reviewer Score: 4

Reviewed by: The Edgecrusher
Date: 12/10/2002
Summary: Great Film

yes IT IS DIFFERENT FROM YOUR NORMAL CHAN FILM YOU CHAN FANS, i am a chan fan but you have to give way to a change every now and then, and this is deffinately one. Yes the film is what you heard, brutal, violent, everything a jackie chan film is not. But this is not a jackie chan film. If you put this in order of screen time Tong Leung Ka Fai would edge it, then possibly Sammo Hung or maybe even Chung-Hua Tao as Charlie (even though he is not billed as a main character.) Andy Lau And Jackie Chan have a relativley small part in the film but they do make an impact.

To talk about the plot, the film takes place in a prison, mostly. Borrowing largely from Prison On Fire directed by Ringo Lam also starring tony leung ka fai. To Run through the characters, tony leung is a cop and has placed himself (quite randomly) undercover into this prison that he believes to be corrupt. Unfortunately the writers seem to forget that he is a cop for most of the movie and finally realise 4/5 the way through the film again, but i dont want to spoil anything. Sammo Hung is well already in jail, and the touching part of the story is the fact that he wants to get out to see his son, about 5 years old i guess. Jackie Chan is some innocent guy that gets caught up in a killing and is also sent to the prison, Andy Lau happens to be the brother of the person killed by Jackie Chan, so he basically wants revenge. Sammo hung's character is involved in the touching parts of the film when he for instance escapes to see his son. This is early on in the film and i do not want to ruin it for you. Chung-Hua Tao plays Charlie he is the roomate of Leung ka fai, there is a very interesting Sub Plot, only avaliabe on the Taiwan release and the superb hong kong legends print of the dvd, that has 30 mins of delete footage as a extra (not in the film as the quailty was VHS quality) the sub plot is about how Chung-Hua Tao's character is trying to be freed by his grandmother and how she dies and then he hanges himself, but is saved by leung ka fai's charater. That is just a brief overview but it is horrific that they took this all out of the movie as it adds another level, seeing that Chung-Hua Tao's character who seems so innocent was basically brought up not knowing the difference between right and wrong.

Tony Leung Ka Fai carries this movie very well, he proved to me that he is a very good actor, (unfortuntely he got arrested) this was the first film that i saw him in. Sammo Hung plays his part well and it is different from normal, as he uses his acting ability and not his fighting ability. Jackie chan is basically there to showcase his fighting ability he is there in all the hand to hand combat scenes, and is used well seeming as he only gave up 3 to 4 days of his time to the production and the director, Andy Lau gets a chance to play a bad guy, as they all do really, it is good to see the different and how they can act as the opposite from normality. Chung-Hua Tao plays his character very well and adds the level of supposed innocence to the film and there is an emotional scene towards the end that i do not want to mention involving him. The acting is very good overall in this film.

To give my opinion on the film i find it hard to see why everyone hates this, it is a good film in its own right, so what if it borrowed from another film, its what your watching at the time that matters. I can understand why Jackie Chan disowned the film as it is nothing like his films with the Exception of Crime Story, but why did he give up his time? i think most of it has to do with the end scene which is very emotional, possibly the most emotional scene from a hong kong action movie i have seen, the actors are used well regardless of what a lot of people think. If a lot of people had given their time to the film they would have seen it from a different direction and realised that it is in fact a very good film on many levels. Action, Drama, whatever you wanna call it, it has achieved a different level to most films i see and i think that is why a lot of fans also disregard this film as a waste of time.

i would highly reccomend this, There are scenes of graphic violence, one scene of animal cruelty (however you never see the human kick the animal) and the film is quiet harrowing.

I would like to give the soundtrack a credit as it added terrific atmosphere to the film and also i would like to mention the great release from Hong Kong Legends, they did us proud again. With one of the worst prints that they have had to work with they made it look like a new movies. Well done.

Reviewed by: MrBooth
Date: 04/16/2002
Summary: Excellent!

There is something about ISLAND OF/ON Fire that always reminds of Ringo Lam's PRISON ON FIRE. I can't put my finger on quite what though - perhaps it's the fact that the names both contain the words "ON FIRE"? Or perhaps it's the fact that they're both prison movies starring Tony Leung Ka Fai? I guess the fact that you could basically swap around half the scenes between the two movies without anybody noticing is a factor too.

Like CRIME STORY, this movie is often treated as the bastard child of Jackie Chan's filmography, like the cousin that nobody mentions because he became a porn star or something. Jackie himself is said to have disowned the movie, and tried to prevent it from being distributed... a rumour which does not bode well for the movie.

But since Jackie is hardly in the movie I say it's really none of his business to disown it. He was apparently brought in as a favour for old-school legend Jimmy Wang-Yu, and didn't give much of his time to the production. He basically turns up on 3 or 4 occasions, fights then disappears again. Still, if you can only get Jackie Chan for 20 screen minutes, having him fight for 15 of them is still a good idea. These are the only fight scenes in the movie - well, the only HK action style fights.

So it's definitely not a Jackie Chan vehicle, whatever the DVD cover likes to think. In fact it's something of an ensemble cast, with Leung Ka Fai just about having the edge in screen time. A bookish young inmate who I think is Barry Wong gets a slightly lesser amount, Sammo Hung has a pretty large part... Jimmy Wang Yu has quite a big role as the prison's top dog. Oh, and Andy Lau turns up for quite a few scenes in one of the meanest roles I've seen him play. He gets to do some fighting too, in the ring with Jackie in fact, and it's a good reminder that Andy was original being pushed as an action star... and he was actually pretty good (or well doubled!).

The basic plot is that Leung Ka Fai is a good cop who enters a prison undercover, looking for evidence of corruption. He doesn't have to look very far, as the prison officers wear their corruption and general malevolence like big shiny badges that say "I'm corrupt". He evidently wants to stay and find out just how far the corruption runs or something though, because he doesn't just tell his superiors "Look, they've got big badges on saying that they're corrupt, let's arrest them" at the first opportunity... instead he does the undercover thing so thoroughly that I completely forgot he was a cop for 75% of the movie (as did the scriptwriters I think) and kind of merged his character here in with his PRISON ON FIRE character. The result was a pretty compelling character though, and the study of how the character is changed by prison life is pretty rich... and his performance is again excellent.

I have to say I haven't seen a lot of prison dramas, but they do all seem to be basically the same... the petty power games, the dehumanisation, the "good man in a bad place" worn down so far you think he's going to snap... and he does, but into a better/stronger man. I guess prison life is pretty unvaried, so it's natural that basically the same things will happen in any prison movie. Nobody digs a tunnel here though. I do find the prison movie quite fascinating... like the assassin movie, it's a vision of a life so completely unlike mine I cannot imagine living it. I don't think I'd survive 8 seconds if I were sent to prison... which is why I've stopped selling drugs to school children. It's just not worth the risk!

I don't know why the movie is called ISLAND ON FIRE... there's no island and no more fire than is within normal regulations. Well, I guess Hong Kong is an island, but that's a pretty vague reason to choose the name for your movie. The alternative title THE PRISONER makes more sense, though I'm sure it's always billed as "Jackie Chan... Is.. THE... PRISONER!!!", which is still decidedly misleading.

The movie follows the traditional prison movie type events and themes, and in liu of much external stimuli in such a closed environment it's up to the characters to drive the movie. Characterisation here is very good, and the performances from Tony Leung and Sammo Hung especially are excellent. Wang Yu is really good too, and there's a plentiful cast of supporting characters that all acquit themselves well (excuse the pun). The tone of the movie is very good, which in this context means gritty, bleak and a little bit desperate. One theory as to why Jackie disowned it is that it is a long way from the relatively jolly movies that he likes to make.

That is until the end, when the scriptwriters (and this viewer) suddenly remember that Tony was a cop at the start of the movie, and the plot follows some unexpected directions that set it apart from the usual prison drama crowd. It's still quite bleak, violent and desperate, but the... ingenuity... of it at least put a grin on my face .

I really liked this movie - I thought it was fascinating, atmospheric, well paced and well performed. Since my previous exposure to Chu Yen Ping as director was restricted to FANTASY MISSION FORCE and FLYING DAGGER, I was expecting something completely stupid and random (though I knew it was pretty gritty and bleak). I was very surprised at how well crafted it turned out to be... though with just enough surprises up its sleeve remind us who's directing and to keep it from being a vanilla "genre movie" (for those who haven't seen FANTASY MISSION FORCE, a) Don't, it's bad and b) it probably squeezes the most genres into its run time of any movie ever c) but without sense or reason ).

"Wow, hidden gem!" I concluded after seeing it... but my colleague (who was sat next to me the whole time) thought it was lame and stupid, so now I don't know quite what to think. Except that he has yet to master the fine art of movie appreciation that I have developed .

The Hong Kong Legends DVD was one of the first they produced I think, and shares with some of their early titles the inexplicable lack of a Cantonese audio track. The Mandarin dub was jarring at first, but I got used to it pretty quickly, and found it didn't really hurt the movie. With Chu Yen Ping being Taiwanese, it's even possible that Mandarin was the language being spoken on set much of the time anyway. What the DVD does include, perhaps to make up for it, is quite a good set of extras. The best of these is about 25 minutes of deleted scenes from the Taiwanese version of the movie. These are from a pretty poor VHS source so they couldn't have been integrated with the movie, but watching them as stand-alone pieces is very interesting. They include quite a lot more character development, and possibly give the movie an even bleaker tone. I believe that the main feature is also edited differently here than on previous home video versions. The HKL edit is the 'correct' order though, and I certainly wouldn't have changed it.

There's also about 25 minutes worth of interview footage with Sammo, Chu Yen Ping and Jimmy Wang Yu (all seperate interviews)... they have some very interesting things to say, though Wang Yu is an arrogant little sod

As a final word I must mention the soundtrack for the movie, which I thought was excellent, and central to the atmosphere of the movie and the general feeling of high production values. It was perhaps a little overused, but so lovely that it was only briefly in danger of being 'repetitive'.

Overall verdict: definite recommendation... as long as you get the HKL version. But be warned that opinions may diverge wildly!

(as I see the HKMDB reviews so far confirm!)

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: Inner Strength
Date: 01/12/2002
Summary: AWFUL!

I can't even begin to explain what this movie was about, as it was all over the place. Potentially this could have been a good movie, but they simply got it all wrong because they just tried to squeeze in as much as possible. So this ends up meaning there are about 6 stories all bunched up together in 90 minutes, meaning you only just start getting into the movie before the story changes to something else.

The 'main' story is of a cop (Tony Leung) who goes undercover in a prison, to uncover a theory that one of the high officers at the prison is working for the government in using prisoners as assassins. But Tony Leung, along with friend Sammo Hung try to bring the truth out.

What makes this movie really stupid is that everyone seems to be sent to the same prison for doing totally different crimes, this just makes no sense in the real world.

Still, Tony Leung was a very good actor in this compared to the majority of his films, he played a convincing part. Sammo Hung and Andy Lau are also pretty good, although Andy Lau doesn't appear much. Jackie Chan is also in the movie, but not as a main character, and to be honest, I don't know why he was in it, because he didn't do much, I can think of loads of other actors that could have played his part much better. Jackie Chan needs to stick to comedies I think, he just doesn't convince you that he is a criminal, especially when you see him shooting cops at the end!

If this movie had not included Jackie Chans or Andy Laus charcters, and
therefore being able to concentrate on the main story better, this could have been a good movie.

Don't think this is a Jackie Chan movie, like a lot of people think, it's nothing of the kind, he just plays little more than a cameo part. Don't buy it if you are only buying it for seeing Jackie Chan, it's not worth it, despite what the other reviewer said before me.

Rating (out of 5): 2

(This rating is based on the year & genre, so don't think it's based as a comparison on new releases etc.)

Reviewed by: Sydneyguy
Date: 05/03/2001
Summary: Pretty good

I was sure people had written a review for this movie but i am REALLY suprised i am the first one!!

MAJOR star power in this movie and because Jackie Chan is in it, doesn't mean comedy for this movie.
This movie is a serious one about prison life and how the characters got into jail. Some scenes are brutal but i liked them since i believe them to be realistic.

What happens at the end is too outragous!! I think they just wanted to add on a JACKIE CHAN SCENE meaning fighting comedy, even though it lasts 2 minutes then gets serious again. You'll be VERY suprised to see who survives in this movie.............

I believe a realisitic look into prison life for the most part and good performances from all the big stars!!