Reviewed by YTSL
Together with John Woo, director Ringo Lam
seems to be associated in the West with the so-called "Heroic Bloodshed"
genre of Hong Kong movies. However, the few works helmed -- and sometimes
produced and co-written (as this one is) -- by the self-described "dark
faced god" which I have viewed have not had too many heroic figures in
them nor bloodshed of the scale that one associates with the one Hong Kong
director who has made it big in Hollywood. Rather, the characters
who people Lam's filmic landscape strike me as grayer -- as opposed to
black, white or colorful -- and more complex; and the actions which they
enact or cause to occur appear more "real" even when violent. Consequently,
they are very hard to take one's eyes off.
The ostensible "good guy" in FULL ALERT is
a short-tempered detective inspector and loving husband and father referred
to by his team members as Officer Pao (who is portrayed with customary
effectiveness by Lau Ching Wan). In his job, he is assisted by --
among others -- a hot-blooded man (played with bug-eyed intensity by Chin
Kar Lok) and an often silently observant woman (Emily Kwan intrigues in
this small but not noteworthy role). At home, he has the support
of a wife who rivals the policeman's right-hand woman in her implicit care
and trust of him (Monica Chan is another beneficiary of a set up that gives
unusual value to its supporting characters).
The apparent main villain of this made in 1997
piece is Mak Kwan, an economically impoverished -- but not entirely morally
bankrupt -- confessed murderer and planner of still more seriously unlawful
activities (Francis Ng gives a surprisingly sensitive performance here).
The loyal love of his life is a woman who unquestioningly helps him do
whatever he decides and willingly carries out his instructions, be they
issued from jail or outside of it (Amanda Lee has a more pivotal part to
play than it may initially seem). The really experienced criminal
in this largely Cantonese language film is Mak Kwan's Mandarin-speaking
partner (played with quite a bit of menace by Jack Gao).
FULL ALERT's plot line could be said to be as
simple as its characters are complex. After all, it effectively just
consists of: A convicted killer plotting to escape from prison to
complete the major heist that he sees as his way to get back at the establishment
which sent his life into a down-spiral; and a dedicated cop -- and his
team -- working to ensure that the felon does not achieve his goal(s).
One way in which the film's main story gets significantly
bulked and spiced up though is by way of its involving well-developed characters
who have interesting "side" stories -- which end up being relevant to understanding
their psychological make-up, actions and reactions -- to tell. So
much so, in fact, that one gets to suspecting that it is the eloquent musings
(including Mak Kwan's story about his near-fatal encounter during his college
years along with his description of how it feels to kill a man) and silent
moments of thought (notably a scene involving Officer Pao -- and seemingly
unbeknownst to him for quite a while, his wife -- which takes place in
front of his bedroom mirror) in the protagonists' lives which auteur Lam
is most interested in showing and FULL ALERT is truly about.
Lest there still be any doubt: FULL ALERT
is much more of a psychological crime drama than a big bang action production.
Although it definitely has its visual thrills (not least an illegally-enacted
and -filmed long car chase, and an equally not officially permitted explosion
which rained debris down onto a crowded Kowloon street (See Stefan Hammond's
"Hollywood East" for further details!)), this outstanding movie's standout
scenes -- notably that which brings the work to a close -- are those which
look to make an emotional rather than physical impact.
My rating for the film: 8.5
Reviewed by Brian
Shadowing YTSL's comments regarding Ringo Lam’s
films not really being “Heroic Bloodshed” (with the possible exception
of Full Contact), is the fact that the taking of life is in no way treated
lightly in this film. For the two protagonists in this film, the full impact
and responsibility of their actions (Francis Ng in killing the architect
and Lau Ching-wan killing someone in his duty) weigh very heavily on both
of them. Ng has constant nightmares about what he did, while Lau seems
burdened and nearly beaten down by not only the killing of a man, but the
fact that every action he takes can be a life or death one for someone.
The contrast in personalities between the two
men makes this a fascinating and multi faceted film. Though Ng kills a
man in cold blood in order to exact his revenge against slights in the
past, there is something about him that is very human, very vulnerable
and very emotional. He is loyal to his friend, deeply in love with his
girlfriend and desperately in need of gaining redemption in his own eyes.
Lau on the other hand is all about control and keeping the emotion inside,
but clearly the pressure of the job is starting to crack the container
of those emotions and they are beginning to spill out in momentary rages
and poor judgement. When Lau finally releases all the emotion and the fear
from inside in a cathartic scene, it is extremely poignant and powerful.
What the two men do share in common is a fierce competitive drive and their
battle of wits becomes a fast moving and deadly game of chess.
The pacing of the film is absolutely spellbinding.
This is something that Lam does so well. He is a master editor of scenes,
incredibly well disciplined in what is included (The Adventurers being
an anomaly) and he keeps the film constantly going forward and the tension
slowly increasing. This film which is partly a police procedural type of
film mixed together with the complex psychological ramifications of the
characters comes out of the box like a shot and rarely slows down. It is
without a doubt one of the best and most realistic cop films of the 1990’s.
My rating for this film: 8.5
Distributor - Mei Ah
The transfer is generally very nice - with
the exception of some wear and a bit of speckling.
No Trailer & no previews
Subs - English, Chinese, Japanese, Korean,
Bahasa and None
Star files - None
The subs are easy to read for the most part
- but a tiny bit lighter than I would like and blend in on occasion.