Every once in a while, one will come across a movie review that asks the question: "What the hell is actor or actress X doing in junk like this?!" This sentiment captures exactly how I feel about finding in this rather mediocre 1988 production not one but three individuals -- Cherie Chung, Paul Chun Pui (who was nominated for best supporting actor for his performance in that 1986 effort) and Wu Ma -- who featured in the seminal "Peking Opera Blues". What they do is give respectability to a script and film that should not be worthy of additionally having a young Cheung Man and Maria Cordero on its cast list.
I sincerely hope and doubt that BET ON FIRE is NOT one of Ringo Lam's highly thought about "On Fire" series of works. It does seem to try to be, in that it can be rather grim and mixes action and melodrama, but fails because it feels way more tired and cliched than realistic. Granted that it somewhat interestingly mixes genres but what you end up with is a strange infusion of happy (while it lasts) family life and a tale of feminine friendship -- IMHO, the best bit of the movie -- into a prostitute drama cum revenge flick.
Thomas Weisser of the "Asian Cult Cinema" awarded
BET ON FIRE three out of four stars -- the same as for "Actress" (a.k.a.
"Centre-Stage"), "Bamboo House of Dolls", "C'est la Vie, Mon Cheri" and
"The Chinese Feast" -- but this is not a stamp of approval that one necessarily
will be proud of; not least because of his reputation for particularly
liking sleaze (notice the presence of what he described as "the granddaddy
of the woman in prison atrocity flicks" in the above list along with works
of definite quality) as well as factual inaccuracies. Re the latter
detail: Despite what he wrote in his book, Joey Wong does not have
a prominent role in this movie. Re the former point: Even though
it does contain scenes of what essentially is rape -- a young woman (played
by Cheung Man) agreeing to let the man (Paul Chun Pui) responsible for
her father (Shing Fui-On) being in jail, and her best friend (Cherie Chung)
getting a venereal disease, have sex with her so that he will postpone
the collection of her friend's significant debts -- along with attempted
rapes and a story that involves a "good" girl becoming an
"escort" of hardly ideal men, this is not a movie that features any nudity and much kissing, let alone many sex scenes.
It is this (re)viewer's particular bias that if a movie does not possess characters that she can feel some sympathy or empathy for, it can't be all that engrossing or even really gross. Although Cherie Chung's protective honorary elder sister of a nightclub hostess and Cheung Man's sacrificing daughter, sister and friend characters had some promise (in large part because of the actresses rather than the stereotypes they did seem to so sincerely seek to flesh out), the truth of the matter is that as they -- and others -- proceeded to their predictable fates and the film moved to its inevitable conclusion, I was neither all that impressed nor saddened by their actions and their aftermath. Considering how extreme they were (and how dangerous must have been some of the stunts that went into enacting them), that is not a good sign indeed.
By the way: What was it about 1988 -- (co)incidentally(?), the last year before "Category III" and others were introduced for evaluating Hong Kong movies -- and women's revenge (films)? In addition to BET ON FIRE (which fared best at the box office), the "Vengeance is Mine" that stars Rosamund Kwan and Patricia Ha plus "Her Vengeance" also came out that year. If any reader of this review can enlighten me about (the reasons, etc. for) this "trend", I would be grateful if (s)he would care to help ease my curiosity.
My rating for the film: 5.5