City on Fire


"I think Quentin Tarantino did it all better."

- Joe909

City on Fire (1987)

Literally: Dragon Tiger Turbulence

Director: Ringo Lam Ling-Tung

Producer: Karl Maka (Mak Ka)

Writer: Shum Sai-Sing

Cast: Chow Yun-Fat, Danny Lee Sau-Yin, Sun Yueh, Carrie Ng Ka-Lai (intro), Roy Cheung Yiu-Yeung, Lau Kong, Mark Cheng Ho-Nam, Wu Ma, Maria Cordero (Ma Lei-Ah)

Running Time: 105 min.

Plot: Chow-Yun Fat stars as an undercover cop who infiltrates a gang of violent bandits led by Danny Lee.

Availability: This title is available at


RETTER'S REVIEW: No frills raw undercover cop story

This is a no frills undercover cop story directed by Ringo Lam. With an average budget the film tells its story quite tightly with fine performances. Chow Yun Fat stars as the undercover policeman who is also having relationship problems. Danny Lee pops up as the jewel thief who will basically befriend chow as the system pushes them closer together. Carrie Ng is the impatient and emotional girlfriend. Yueh Sun Stars as an older cop who has lost his son years ago in the force and is bending the rules to have Chow undercover.

I think Ringo Lam takes inspiration as much from French New Wave cinema as he douse from Hong Kong. The simple shooting style, at times like documentary, captures whats he needs and he is just concerned with making it all happen for the camera with settings and performances that ring true for the lens. Films like Un Flic and Le Samorai from French director Jean Piere Melville may have been the inspiration for Lam's raw, simple style. This approach is effective.

We all know what film it ended up inspiring and Ringo Lams comparisons with his contemporary John Woo, Rather than ad to the subject dominance of the former I will just comment on the latter in That Woo only made one film better than this and it was The KIller. Despite Woo's amazing and influential style he doesn't tell perfect stories. City On Fire has a story that keeps you interested in what will actually happen. The dramatics of this picture are excellent. The performances all good. The characters are all concerned about their own situations and feel them all. Carrie NG creates a very beleiveabl character with some her subtle gestures and emotional outbirsts. The film is occasionally quite funny. Chow has a bit of a gift for comedy that transcends language and cultural barriers. This film and Lam's other film starring Chow, Prison On Fire, always amuse me in their moments.

I was taken by this film. I cared about Chow and his vice like position. His impatient girlfriend, complicated job, going undercover and being followed by another police unit as if a criminal are situations closing in on him. Chow Yun Fat is a wonderful actor to watch. He can make you laph with his dances, wooing woman and can entrance you with his glare when he means business. There are some wonderful long takes in this film that lets chow bring you into his character. In his roles of cops and killers he makes you sympathetic. A gift to the genre.

Ringo Lam brings many of his regulars together to make a class production. You will recognise some of the cast if you have seen his other films. I figure he didn't have the permission to shoot on some of the locations and it informs the shooting style, undercover in itself. Cameras lens poking out the window of a moving car to shoot the characters on the street. He just gets this film made. He has a pretty decisive vision. I have read you have to be tough directing films in Hong Kong. The schedules are busy, the budgets are low and the Authorities are strict. You have to be able to improvise and break the rules. Take risks like they do with stunt-work.

The script is way above average for a Hong Kong cop drama. This is a character driven film with less emphasis on action. A solid 80's picture. One of my favorite films from Hong Kong.


BRMANUK'S REVIEW: After seeing Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs (which I loved) I wanted to see something similar. A friend informed me of a Hong Kong movie made in 1987 (5 years before Res Dogs) that was supposedly the basis for QT's directing debut. The film was called "City On Fire". Well, one year later (the other day) I got my hands on it. The film involves (yeah you probably know by now but what the hell..) a cop named Ko Chow (Chow Yun-Fat) who goes undercover to try and infiltrate a gang of robbers. He supplies them with handguns and is eventually asked to join the gang and rob a jewellery store. The story is a lot more complicated than Reservoir Dogs as there are multiple things going on in Ko Chows life, unlike in Mr.Orange's life in Res Dogs. He is having trouble with his girlfriend, the police suspect him of being corrupt and are trying to arrest him and his Uncle is having a nervous breakdown over matters at work.

The thing that surprised me about this film was the amount of things that QT stole for Res Dogs. Remember the famous line "Let's go to work"? It's in here! Remember when Mr.White with guns in each hand, shot through the Squad car's windscreen? It's in here! Plus there's a whole load of other minor things too. The acting in this film is top notch. Danny Lee who plays the Eastern equivalent to Mr.White gives a strong performance, as does Chow Yun-Fat. The action although infrequent is very convincing (Except for when one gang member shoots two handgun rounds into a car windscreen and blows it up?!)Some parts in the film don't run as smoothly as they could have but its all good.

Overall this is an excellent film that is essential viewing especially if you've seen Reservoir Dogs.




"And now for something completely different."

-John Cleese, Monty Python's Flying Circus

This is my 100th review for this site.

It's also a story.

It's a story about me writing my 100th review for this site.

Much of it is pure fiction, and actual e-mail addresses, ICQ numbers, and AIM screen names are not given here. I owe a debt of gratitude to Alexander, Dave Bell, Vic Nguyen, Dan-O, and even Mighty Peking Man for allowing me to "use" them in this manner. I also owe Dave Bell an apology for giving him what may be the most fiendish, heinous, one-way-ticket-to-Hell piece of dialogue I've ever come up with (at least in my opinion...yours may be different. The good thing about it is that it's subtle enough so that the casual reader probably won't "get it."). And Vic Nguyen owes ME a debt of gratitude for giving him the funniest line in the whole sordid mess (again, in my opinion).

Enjoy it, or don't. To continue reading Numskull's review, click here.

JOE909'S REVIEW: I recently rented this dvd at Blockbuster, having first seen the movie at a midnight matinee about six years ago, and not remembering a thing about it. Unwittingly, I rented the dubbed US release, new soundtrack and all. The dubbing is just plain terrible. The guy doing Chow Yun Fat's voice is the voice actor equivalent of Keannu Reeves; in other words, he's lifeless. It's also one of those dubbing jobs where everything has been calculated to make it seem as though the Chinese actors are actually speaking English ? their mouths opening and closing precisely with the words they're speaking. Having not seen the film in so long, I can't remember the original dialog, so I wonder how much (if any) has been changed. Then there's the new music, which I like. I recall that the Cantonese version has a jazzy score. This US dub has watered-down trip hop that really isn't that bad, though it does sorta sound like music from a video game.

As for the movie itself - certainly one of the best "heroic bloodshed" films. The opening bank robbery is my favorite scene in the film. When that old lady happens upon the robbery in progress, you know all hell's gonna break loose. Another great movie moment is when the crazed robber (the one in black) starts beating on the bank manager, then starts fighting his fellow robber.

It's not a perfect movie, though. There are too many plots going on at the same time. Chow and his fiancé are given so much screen time that not enough time is left to develop the bond between Chow and Danny Lee, to the detriment of the story. We're supposed to buy that Chow and Danny have become good friends, when all we're shown is one lame scene of them looking dumb in front of a pair of girls, and then having a serious heart to heart the night before the robbery. Though it was interesting, I personally would have jettisoned most of the fiancé subplot. Same for many of the scenes with Inspector Lau and the new guy ? there were just too many hands in the pot. Concentrating on Chow and Lee would have equaled a faster, more intense movie. But as it is, City on Fire just has too many ideas for its own good.

Here is where I'll disagree with other HK movie buffs: I think Quentin Tarantino did it all better. He got rid of the fiancé. He removed the elderly inspector and his younger rival. Tarantino instead focused on the bond between the cop and the head robber, giving his movie a much heavier impact than City on Fire. Tarantino also improved upon the Mexican stand-off scene ? in City on Fire, when Lee holds his gun on his boss, the boss holds his gun on Chow, and the crazed robber holds his gun on Lee, the scene doesn't play out as it should; the four of them are interrupted by another robber, who breaks it all up. Tarantino plays this scene out to its tense, proper conclusion, with everyone shooting at once. In City on Fire, the standoff is forgotten, until one of the robbers tries to escape, and the boss shoots him, which is hard to buy. This gives Lee a reason to shoot his boss: self-defense; Harvey Keitel (in the Danny Lee role) shoots his boss in Reservoir Dogs for no other reason than to protect Tim Roth, the Chow Yun Fat character. This is what gives Roth's admission of being a cop so much more power in RD; in City on Fire, it comes off as more of a "by the way" kind of admission. And having Chow die is just plain sad; I remember how bummed out everyone was in the audience.

All that said, it's still a great movie. Reminds me more of an Italian crime flick than a hardcore Hong Kong actioner, but it's still a classic.

JOE909'S RATING: 8/10

TEQUILA'S REVIEW: Oh yes, one of my top five. Which is this at the moment.

  • A Better Tomorrow
  • The Killer
  • Bullet In The Head
  • City On Fire
  • Insert random good film here

When I saw this, I thought "Ah, that's what Tarantino stole from then. Should be good." 5 minutes later I thought "Hmm, no-one said it was THIS brutal."

I was shocked when, for no apparent reason other than using a phone, a man was stabbed with a large kitchen knife in public. I was even more shocked when a cop got his brains blown out at point blank range for ABSOLUTELY NO OTHER REASON THAN FOR BEING A COP. First things first, however good it is, this film will seem pretty psychotic at first look and you may not be able to take it. I can watch Bullet In The Head over and over, but it won't shock me any more and there was no sickening jolt the first time but with City On Fire there was because there is just no warning whatsoever.

But that aside, the film was certainly deserving of the highest praise. While the action sequences weren't at John Woo standard, I wasn't really expecting much anyway - most of the violence was just in one-off events and really there was only one proper shootout. The scenes were tense though, which is what makes a film like this.

I felt that the acting was very good, but with Chow Yun-Fat in an award winning role I didn't expect less and Danny Lee is also great in the film as the robber with honour. The support was also good with no real weak link as such.

I won't talk about the main plot as that has already been touched upon many times, but the subplot of Ko Chow's relationship with his girlfriend could have been a film on it's own. It's certainly better than some subplots, as you actually care about this one.

If you want to see a great movie and you can stomach scenes like the torture of a worker in a robbery (stabbing people's hands was never so casual) you must see this, but I'm almost persuaded to take a half mark off because I don't know many women who would want to watch such brutal psychotic violence and they are the only ones interested in Chow Yun Fat's naked arse. YOU WERE WARNED.

TEQUILA'S RATING: 10/10, 9.5/10 if you are allergic to the sight of male buttocks.

RETTER'S REVIEW: Ringo Lam's "City On Fire" stars Chow Yun Fat as a cop who goes undercover to infiltrate a group of jewel thieves. While he does this, fellow cops suspect him of being corrupt and his girl-friend considers leaving him. This is a great movie which entertains with a good story and excellent performance instead of action scenes. Chow is at his charismatic best and Danny Lee is also good as one of the jewel thieves.This is one of Ringo Lams best films and I recommend this movie to those wanting a good story rather than Woo style action scenes. This is one of the earliest "heroic bloodshed" films along with the classic "A Better Tomorrow". I would consider this film to be one of the greatest of it's genre and I insist you that you check it out soon. This film also inspired the hit U.S film "Reservoir Dogs" which was directed by Quentin Tarantino.


VIC NGUYEN'S REVIEW: Ringo Lam crafted this superb action drama, which is best known in the west for inspiring Quentin Tarantino's directorial debut Reservoir Dogs. Chow Yun-fat bagged the best actor trophy for his emotionally charged performance as the undercover cop unsure of his loyalties, while Danny Lee is equally impressive as the honorable thief whom Chow befriends. Lam directs these actors with an incredible sense of pace and visual style, courtesy of cinematographer Andrew Lau Wai-keung. Overall, City on Fire is another masterful Ringo Lam production.


DAVID BELL'S REVIEW: City on Fire starts out with some guy that tries to make a long distance call after he tells the store owner it's just a local. He gets knifed by five guys because he didn't dial 10-10-321. The cops come and ask where Chow Yun Fat is because it's five minutes into the movie and he's the star after all. Chow is busy hassling a hot chick in a bar who's trying hustle some short dude. She tells Chow to beat it so he does. On the guys head with a champagne bottle. The five knife guys, who are all bummed because they were rejected from a Foster Grant commercial, decide to knock over a jewelry store. A few things go bad, like when the leader - who dresses like the guy in the Bazooka Joe comics that wears his turtle neck sweater up to his eye balls - decides to play mumbly peg with the jewelry store manager and misses. When the cops arrive, Bazooka Joe holds them off by firing his .38 revolver into the squad's windshield, which all good physics and engineering students know will immediately cause the car to explode. That lets the other guys come down and jump into the midget clown car for a get-away After the bad guys get away with three faux pearl necklaces that the owners are claiming are worth over $1 million so they can collect the insurance, Chow tries to do the humpty dance in the shower with the cite chick from the bar. Then he checks out her pits and tells her she's got more hair than Madonna so he cuts out and goes to see his uncle, the cop from the knifing, and his grandma.

Turn s out ol' Chow is a cop too, working undercover, and he wants out. But Uncle Cop reminds him he took an oath to uphold the law and he's got pictures of him with hairy armpit girl, so he better play ball. Chow sells Bazooka Joe some guns and is offered a job with the gang but Chow wants to marry hairy armpit girl instead. Uncle Cop shows the pics to the rest of the station house, who immediately arrest and torture Chow for not buying his girlfriend a Lady Schick. After getting his arms stretched a few feet, Chow decides to keep going undercover and join the gang. Hairy armpit girl goes to Canada with the midget from the bar, but she's deported to Hawaii until she can find some Nair. Bazooka Joe introduces Chow to the Foster Grant gang's boss who tells them they can't leave a two-room apartment until they either pull off another robbery or decide to let the Real World cameras come into the apartment. After a couple of days, the boss tells the gang there will be two facets to the next heist. First, they'll hit another jewelry store in a part of town that has more cops than a Winchells Donut store. Second, everything they do will be documented for Quentin Tarantino to rip-off later.

The job goes bad when a sales lady tries to give the guys a 14-carat ring after they specifically said 24-carat only, so she gets shot 15-20 times from an 6-shot revolver. The cops come and gack two of the Foster Grant guys plus put a few slugs into Bazooka Joe and Cow before what's left of the gang splits to a farm house next door to the police academy. The boss arrives and accuses Chow of being a cop, Bazooka Joe says the boss is a doody head and they all pull guns on each other. Just after they say "wouldn't Tarantino just love this visual," the cops from the academy open fire and pop the boss and another member of the gang. With just Bazooka Joe and Chow left, Joe tries to escape but Chow tells him he really is a cop and just to prove it, he'll bleed to death right there. The cops arrest Bazooka Joe and charge him with raising the price of bubble gum right before Uncle Cop tells a young police officer he looks like the bad guy from Karate Kid II, a sequel that didn't need to be made. So he smacks him on the head with the a brick. Uncle Cop's boss looks at the young cop suffering brain damage and asks Uncle Cop if he wants to go get some donuts. City on fire was pretty cool, although it seemed to move a little fast in places. Visually, it was a treat.