City on Fire (1987) / Thriller-Action

MPAA Rated: R for strong violence
Running time:
101 min.

Cast: Chow Yun-Fat, Danny Lee, Carrie Ng, Roy Cheung
Director:  Ringo Lam
Screenplay: Tommy Sham

Review published August 23, 2002

There is no denying that City on Fire was an influence on Quentin Tarantino, a notorious aficionado of Hong Kong flicks, and his first film, Reservoir Dogs.  In fact the last 20 minutes of this film can be seen as the blueprint for Tarantino's entire movie.  Yet, after acknowledging that it was an inspiration, the two films should be seen as separate entities, since much of what makes City on Fire work (character development, yin and yang cop-robber themes, and a romantic subplot) are not to be found with the 1992 American film, and what people liked about Reservoir Dogs (smart and savvy writing, sassy interplay among characters, and some brutally graphic violence) aren't really the strengths of the Hong Kong original. 

City on Fire stars Chow Yun-Fat (A Better Tomorrow, Dream Lovers) as an undercover cop sent out to infiltrate a gang of jewel thieves.  He is a at a crossroads in his life, not really living up to the image of his father (also a cop, who dies valiantly in the line of duty), and also unable to make a commitment to his job or his girlfriend who so desperately wants to marry him.  Finally he makes the choice...this will be his last undercover gig and when it's over he is off the force and will marry the woman who loves him.  That is, if he can stay alive.

City on Fire has the makings to be a much better film than what it is, but the meandering plotting and lack of focus to it's own themes makes it more of a curiosity than as a truly gripping action-drama.  Ringo Lam (Victim) turns in another stylish effort and Yun-Fat is his usual irreverent self, so fans of both will not be disappointed.  City on Fire is a decent Hong Kong action flick, with enough going for it to entertain, but die-hard fans of Reservoir Dogs seeking more insight into the film they love will find little to relate to outside of some key plot points to be intrigued.  City on Fire is made for Hong Kong action fans only.

Qwipster's rating:

2002 Vince Leo