"For those of you who still question Tsui Hark's abilities as a storyteller/filmmaker, I highly suggest hunting down this unforgettably disturbing piece, which is dark and nihilistic to the utmost extreme."
- Vic Nguyen
Dangerous Encounters of the First Kind (1980)
AKA: Don't Play With Fire
Director: Tsui Hark
Writer: Roy Szeto Cheuk-hon, Eddie Fong, and Chan Fong
Cast: Lin Ching-chi, Lo Lieh, Tse Bo-law, Lung Tin-sang, Ray Lui, and Bruce Barron
Running Time: 91 min.
Plot: Three reckless teens go out for a joyride and accidentally murder an innocent pedestrian. This crime is witnessed by a mentally disturbed teenage girl, who blackmails the trio into assisting her on a bus hijacking. After the attempted hijacking is thwarted by the groups ineptitude, they manage to obtain a valuable package (the contents of which include 800 million yen in money orders, and an important contract) through a series of events. What follows is a series of violent set pieces, depicting the original owners of the package (a group of cold-blooded American mercenaries) going through any means necessary to obtain what is rightfully theirs.
Availability: This title is available at HKflix.com
MIGHTY PEKING MAN'S REVIEW: Okay, I'm not sure what was running through Tsui Hark's mind when when he made this flick, but it takes a twisted, LCD-indused individual to pump out something so bizarre, yet so entertaining.
The best thing about Don’t Play With Fire is all the characters are pieces of shit:
The main female character (Lin Chen Chi), who apparently gets off on sticking needles through the heads of her pet mice, is a mental case who is very capable of pulling a Columbine. The main cop (Lo Lei), is no Riggs or Murtaugh, unless you can picture those guys slapping a family member around before a stakeout. Another pack of characters consist of trouble-making, nerdy school boys who go about their day after running down a pedestrian.
Mesh all of the above with gangsters, weirdos, mercenaries and white trash 'Rambo' type killers (they basically look like the white bad guys from a Godfrey Ho ninja flick... wait a minute, one of them actually IS: Bruce Baron!) and what you get is one of the most unexplainable, off the hook, ultra-violent Hong Kong flicks I have ever seen - and every single minute of it is a guilty pleasure that will leave you begging for more. Even the so-bad-it’s-good english dubbing is amusing.
Despite it's 80's exterior (an the fact that it looks like it was filmed where they serve fresh Adobo), Dont Play With Fire is ahead of its time in more ways than one. Tsui Hark's flashy camera work is present; in fact, think of it as Time & Tide, minus the budget, but with more balls, and a lot less late-90’s flash.
The soundtrack, which features original tracks stolen (and I really think Tsui Hark wanted you to think it was stolen) from Fist of Fury, Star Trek: The Movie and some of that moody synth from Dawn of the Dead.
It's titles like this that put the Hong Kong action film on the map. And believe me, my opinion counts. Back then, I watched them all. It was all about Tsui Hark, John Woo and Don “The Dragon” Wilson.
P.S. I just sent a DVD copy of this movie to peta.org. I’m sure they’ll appreciate the Anamorphic Widescreen.
MIGHTY PEKING MAN'S RATING: 8/10
VIC NGUYEN'S REVIEW: In the late 1970's, an aspiring filmmaker named Tsui Hark returned to Hong Kong fresh from his experiences in the United States (from film school in Texas to documentary filmmaking in New York City). After a brief stay in the television industry, Tsui was given the opportunity to direct his first feature film, The Butterfly Murders (a wonderful film which is unfortunately only available in horribly cropped editions on VCD and VHS), which ultimately turned out to be a failure at the box office. His follow up film, the deliciously weird We're Going to Eat You, was another dud in terms of ticket sales. With his filmmaking future in doubt, Tsui decided to lay it all on the line, and forego any semblance of commercialism for his next film. What would result is Dangerous Encounters, a sick and twisted masterpiece, guaranteed to shock even the most jaded gorehounds.
For those of you who still question Tsui Hark's abilities as a storyteller/filmmaker, I highly suggest hunting down this unforgettably disturbing piece, which is dark and nihilistic to the utmost extreme. From the horrific opening images (containing a scene of animal cruelty which would undoubtebly incite protests from animal rights activists in the states) to the carnage-filled finale, it is quite obvious that Dangerous Encounters was extracted from the mind of an angry individual.
According to Dangerous Encounters, the world is a festering shithole deprived of any modicum of goodness and humanity. This barren wasteland is clearly represented by the characters of the story, who are distanced from any positive traits whatsoever. The 3 teenagers are foolish creatins who show no regard for anyone but themselves. This is effectively conveyed in a scene in which they casually dismiss a child's gravestone. The American mercenaries, in the mean time, are blood thirsty savages who are willing to spill buckets of blood in order to get what they want. And let's not forget the main character (effectively portrayed by cute actress Lin Ching-chi, who is anything but in this film); a mentally disturbed teenage girl who spends her leisure time driving needles into the brains of helpless mice, among other sadistic shortcomings to numerous to detail in a single film review.
With a seemingly unlimited amount of stage blood, Tsui and action director Ching Siu-tung (who collaborated for the first time on this project) utilize experimental camera angles, expert editing, gloomy lighting techniques, and old fashioned ingenuity to craft some impressive action/suspense sequences. The finale, pitting the heavily armed American mercenaries versus the hapless teenagers in a cemetary, is one of the most intense setpieces Tsui has ever committed to film.
Not surprisingly, Dangerous Encounters ran into trouble with the Hong Kong censors (but mostly for political content). After extensive editing, the film was released, and predictably failed at the box office. Tsui Hark followed up Dangerous Encounters with the commercially successful All the Wrong Clues....For the Right Solutions, which is the antithesis of Dangerous Encounters in every sense of the word.
Tsui Hark has built quite a prolific filmography in the years to come, but it is unlikely that he would have the balls to make a film like this ever again.
Notes of interest: Finding a decent copy of Dangerous Encounters can be quite the task. Mei Ah did issue a laserdisc edition a while back, but it is of course out of print and nearly impossible to find. A European VHS edition (the version I saw) is more readily accessible, but it is cropped, dubbed in English, and subtitled in what appears to be German. Although it obviously isn't an ideal release, the film itself still packs quite a punch. Finally, a letterboxed DVD was released in Japan, but it has no English subtitles.
- Political activist/prolific producer/Lucky Star John Sham Kin-fun has a minor role in the film as a cop. Also worth noting is actor Ray Lui (most famous for his role opposite Chow Yun-fat in the Shanghai Beach (aka The Bund) TV series), who also appears as a cop. Tsui Hark himself makes a brief appearance (still boasting the trademark goatee) as a men's room attendant.
-The music in Dangerous Encounters consists entirely of cues from stolen sources. According to John Charles in his book, The Hong Kong Filmography (p 203), the music is derived from sources such as Dawn of the Dead and Star Trek: The Motion Picture (!?). In addition, I recognized bits and pieces stolen from the soundtrack to Bruce Lee's Fist of Fury.
VIC NGUYEN'S RATING: 10/10