Running Time: 96 minutes
MPAA Rating: NR
Format: 1.85:1 Widescreen
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
Languages: Cantonese, Mandarin
Subtitles: Japanese, Korean, Chinese-Simplified Characters, English, Bahasa-Indonesia, Thai, Bahasa-Malaysia, Chinese-Traditional
Region: All
MSRP: $29.95

Own It!
City on Fire (1987) (Import)

Undercover cop Ko Chow (Chow Yun Fat) is assigned to infiltrate a gang of jewelry thieves after the cop originally assigned to the case is murdered. Still haunted by the honor-bound betrayal of a criminal friend, Chow finds himself drawn into friendship with one of the thieves, Fu (Danny Lee). Along the way we witness the dysfunctional relationship between Chow and his spastic girlfriend/ would-be fiancee (she burns him with a cigarette, but it's really cute!), and a subplot involving Chow's uncle's authority being superceded by a prissy and incompetent pencil neck.

City on Fire is universally acknowledged as the inspiration for Quentin Tarentino's Reservoir Dogs. And while the movies are similar, Fire, as the predecessor, deserves to be reckoned on its own merits. Unfortunately, it was really disappointing. I've heard lots of good things about the movie and I was looking forward to finally seeing a Chow Yun Fat Hong Kong action movie, but I found it lacking. My two major complaints are: (1) the friendship between Chow and Fu seems to spring full-blown from the head of Zeus, with any development all but glossed over; and (2) the relationship between Chow and his girlfriend, which serves no purpose other than "Let's make Chow three-dimensional," is completely unbelievable. They seem convenient for each other (and Lord knows, we need more symbiotic dysfunction in today's cinema!), but it's not the kind of great tragic relationship the movie needs it to be. In fact, the only relationships that seem to work are those involving Chow's Uncle Lau (Sun Yueh). Chow Yun Fat's an okay actor, I guess, but Yueh out-acts everyone else in spades. I know, action movies are usually light on story and character development and all that other highbrow stuff because the cool factor makes up for it (Hello, M:I 2). But the slow pace, lazy plot development, and mediocre Western-style car chases and gunfights left me feeling cheated.

The actual print of the film looks like a 1987 detective film: not deteriorated, but definitely out of date. Zoom isn't as crisp as it should be. The type on the menus is pretty bad and navigation is sometimes confusing. The subtitles look decent, but the titles themselves move way too fast. I had to replay some scenes twice just to pick up some significant dialogue. Woe is the viewer who doesn't keep eyes on the screen at all times! The quality of the English translation is inconsistent, sometimes not making any sense.

The only extras included on the disc are theatrical trailers (City on Fire, Prison on Fire, Prison on Fire II, and All About Ah-Long) plus bios for Chow Yun Fat, Danny Lee, and Ringo Lam. Navigation in the bios section is less than intuitive. The best part is reading Chow Yun Fat's early films called "forgettable stuffs." Do all the subtitle languages count as extras? They could provide some late-night entertainment

Lisa McInnis, 6/16/00