You might not know it, but you've already watched one of his movies: "Reservoir Dogs" is a note-perfect rendition of the Chow Yun-Fat vehicle that was Ringo Lam's first big hit, "City on Fire." The original thriller is the story of... [more]
You might not know it, but you've already watched one of his movies: "Reservoir Dogs" is a note-perfect rendition of the Chow Yun-Fat vehicle that was Ringo Lam's first big hit, "City on Fire." The original thriller is the story of an undercover cop who finds honor among jewel thieves. Stories of honor under fire and brotherhood-in-arms have inspired Lam over and over again.
"City on Fire" was just the beginning of a series of arsonist delights. "Prison on Fire," "School on Fire," and "Prison on Fire 2" set that same macho story in a number of locked-down settings. Maybe that's why he's been called "One of the darkest visionaries of Hong Kong cinema," and why Jean-Claude Van Damme says that Lam has "the flavor of Scorsese." While Lam clearly aims to unearth the deep conflicts at the heart of contemporary society, it's fair to say that, even more, he's aching to stage huge, bloody mayhem.
Lam is a product of the "Let's do the show right here" school of Hong Kong filmmaking. In a typical move, when he couldn't get permission to shoot a car chase on a busy street, he shot it anyway. (The fear in the onlookers' eyes is real.) That forceful personality tends to get him in trouble with his actors. He fell out with Tony Leung on the set of "The Adventurers" (1995), and, on the set of "Maximum Risk" (1996), he told Van Damme that he "couldn't act for shit."
All of this might explain why Lam hasn't been able to follow John Woo into the limelight of the American market place, even though he uses the same actors and plotlines, and has the same delight in the old ultraviolence. (Just try "Full Contact" to see the similarity.) Instead, he's still working the Hong Kong grind and watching his films fall into the black hole of the Chinese-cinema circuit. Still, he's used to lulls in his fortune, and to bouncing back. Maybe that Hollywood breakthrough is just around the corner. [show less]