Burning Paradise

Reviewed by YTSL

What the...?!  From reading descriptions of the plot and a few (other) reviews of director Ringo Lam's only period piece (that I know of), I had expected to see action all the way through it.  To be sure, there are numerous -- often very well choreographed (by Chris Lee) -- fight sequences in this 1993 work.  Indeed, there really are times when it feels like the bulk of the movie consists of Fong Sai Yuk (played here by Willie Chi rather than, say, Jet Li) running around trying to:  Rescue a woman named Tou Tou (portrayed by Carman Lee) from the evil embrace of a demented villain (Wong Kam-Kong threatens to steal the show with his extravagant portrayal of Elder Kung; other formidable figures that the film's heroes have to contend with are John Ching Tung's Crimson and Lam Chuen's Brooke); and get her, himself, his comrades and an old teacher out of an amazing trap-filled Red Lotus Temple (the hellish set is definitely this production's highlight as well as center-piece).
Willie Chi and Carman Lee
However, there also are the strangest injections of humor into some surely inappropriate sections of a generally dark feeling BURNING PARADISE.  Two particularly memorable cases in point:  In the midst of a tight battle, someone with a half agonized, half perplexed expression on his face demands to know "Who squeezed my Dick?"; and as an injured woman is being lifted to safety from a dangerous place, she yells at her rescuer -- and the movie's hero -- to "Don't touch my ass"!  Then there are the scenes of bare backs (one female, one male) being scrubbed by maidens -- as well as others of attempted seduction plus forced sex (the latter of which is interrupted by the villain of the piece electing to rip the head off one of his minions) -- in a movie whose scenes largely take place in a(n admittedly government seized...but still!) Buddhist temple filled with (enslaved) Shaolin monks...
Wong Kam Kong and Carman
Even knowing that Tsui Hark is the producer of BURNING PARADISE did not prepare me for its being so full of assorted bits and subject to quick mood changes.  While the mixing of diverse and divergent elements works well in some of his offerings (notably  "Peking Opera Blues" and "The Lovers"; two films which he directed as well as produced), my sense is that it is often too awkwardly and inappropriately rendered here.  Consequently, characters come across as too inconsistent in nature -- it does not help that a few of them are not what they first appear to be or turn out to have mixed loyalties whose reason for being are not well explained -- and proceedings can feel downright schizophrenic.  There's the matter too of my feeling that greater care ought to have been taken to ensure that such as Fong Sai Yuk's sword would look less like a large piece of cardboard...
Yang Sheng and Lam Chuen
Still, this is not to say that BURNING PARADISE is not capable of entertaining and enthralling.  If the (potential) viewer is willing to forgive the film's having such faults as those detailed above, and particularly if (s)he is enough of an action junkie, it does have enough novel and spectacular elements -- again, as befits a Tsui Hark production -- to offer up a rather impressive show.  This, after all, is a work whose main villain does not only seem to be a crazed and frustrated artist but is one whose red paint gets its hue from human blood and who near magically utilizes all colors of paints -- along with paper and paintbrushes -- as dangerous weapons against one of the famous Ten Tigers of Kwantung (Hung Hei-Kwun is portrayed by Yang Sheng) as well as the legendary Fong Sai Yuk.  While he is not Asia the Invincible, Elder Kung is at least colorful enough to bring to mind -- and evoke comparisons with -- the character masterfully essayed by Brigitte Lin in "Swordsman II" and "The East is Red" (And lest it not be apparent:  Yes, this ought to be taken as quite the compliment indeed!).

My rating for the film:  7.0


Reviewed by Brian
 

Genocide comes to kung fu film. This incredibly desolate and disturbing film seems to point an arrow at the darkness and obsession within man. Red Lotus Temple is the heart of darkness and it is lorded over by a maniacal madman - part Kurtz, part Lear and part Pol Pot. Driven by his own demons he has created a world around him from which there is no escape - not even for him. Into this shadowy and claustrophobic world are brought the remnants of the Shaolin Temple - the rest already exterminated - hanging from tree branches, dry bones left in the desert sun - proud men now degraded to slave labor. Led by Fong Sai Yuk, rebellion, heroism and sacrifice is inevitable.

Tsui Hark and Ringo Lam create a mesmerizing, tense and incredibly imaginative rendering of this world. It combines Tsui's spectacular imagery with Ringo's bleak and violent outlook and it sucks you in like a recurring nightmare - all closed in - constricted - death literally ready to snuff you out at any moment. It is simply brilliant movie making.
Carman and John Ching Tung
The sets and construction of The Red Lotus Temple is a delight - intricate - with twists, turns, traps and pitfalls everywhere. It is as much a character in the film as anyone. Though Elder Kung (Wong Kam-kong) clearly overshadows the rest of the cast with a demonic charismatic performance, the martial arts scenes with Willie Chi, Yang Sheng and Lam Chuen are fabulously choreographed full of astonishing acrobatics and the clanging of weapons. There are moments in this film that had me holding my breath or gasping in surprise and amazement.
My rating for this film: 8.0