Thursday, January 26, 2012

Don't Play with Fire (1980)

Tsui Hark might be some legend inside the fanboy-community of Hong Kong movie-nerds, but most (not all) of Hark's work has left me cold and uninterested to see more. I really love We're Going To Eat You and Twin Dragons with Jackie Chan is a great action-comedy, but all of his historical stuff - except Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame - is boring and on autopilot. But I'm willing to change my mind if there's something that attracts me with the project, and Don't Play With Fire seemed like something in my taste, mostly because it's early Hark and also belonged in that dirty, gritty crime genre that always looks so good when shot in Hong Kong.

Three nerds, trying to be cool, is out one night and accidentally runs over a man. He dies directly and the boys flees the scene. But a weird young woman, Pearl (Chen Chi Lin) witnesses their crime and forces them to help her in her crazy ideas, involving bombs and scams. One day they steal Japanese bank papers belonging to some foreign criminals. Soon the Triads knows about the valuable papers and after trying to take out the cash the police takes interest in the boys. But it's also Pearl's older brother Tan (the brilliant Lieh Lo) is the police leading the investigation. An innocent night out just turned even uglier...

Don't Play With Fire is a sensational movie. It feels as fresh today as it must have felt in 1980. The ONLY bad thing with the movie is the two scenes of very, very, very unnecessary animal cruelty - first towards a mouse and then a cat (even if I think the cat-scene seem fake, just clever editing - but what the hell do I know?). So skip those scenes when you see them coming. My pathetic retelling of the story up here just doesn't make the movie justice. This is such a complex study is characters and fuck-up's that it deserves every fucking prize every made just because it shows a world so bleak, cynical and brutal - without hesitating. Don't expect any happy endings here boys and girls, this is it.

Hark and his crew shows the backstreets and rougher neighbourhoods like I never seen it before. The directing is filled with energy and creativity, far from the soul-less spectacles he directed later on. This is human, this is funny and very black. It makes a quite good double bill together with Chatrichalerm Yukol's Gunman, another ultra-realistic crime-drama from Thailand starring Sorapong Chatree (read my review here), but Hark's movie is way more darker and nastier.

Even if the story aims more at drama and some black comedy, it has a lot of graphic violence and action - but not the spectacular Hong Kong action of course, but realistic and bloody. Never trying to make it beautiful or seem harmless. If you get a beating in this movie your face swells up like a blood-filled balloon and a shot in the belly makes you suffer. The final, on some kind of graveyard, is among the best I've seen with fantastic cinematography, edgy action and nasty surprises. I also likes how the filmmakers just fucks the idea of who's gonna die first. This is very far from traditional filmmaking-conventions.

Don't Play With Fire is a friggin' masterpiece, and this time I really mean it. Close your eyes during those animal-scenes, but watch the rest and be stunned how effective and well-made this movie is. From now on it's up there among the ten best movies ever made in Hong Kong


Anonymous said...

Tsui is my favorite director! Reading you found his films boring... You broke my heart! ;)

Anyway, have you seen The Blade, Peking Opera Blues and Time and Tide? If you don't fall in love with The Blade I maybe break in your house and force you to watch every single US teenage romantic comedy I'll find on my way. I swear.

Ninja Dixon said...

Yeah, but I also claim that this one and We're Going To Eat You is masterpieces! :D

Hans A. said...

A lot of Hark's films are hit or miss with me. However, I'm with you--I think Don't Play with Fire is a masterpiece.

I also recommend The Butterfly Murders, if you like this one and We're Going to Eat You. It was made around the same time. An excellent mystery film, in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

Haven´t seen that much of his work....I saw Shu shan zheng zhuan/ Zu Warriors (2001) some time ago...have you seen it ninja..?

Ninja Dixon said...

Actually, the original Zu Warriors was quite ok if I remember it correctly. Many years since I saw it :) But I doubt I will like the latest one!

I will get myself The Butterfly Murders, sounds very interesting!

Anonymous said...

Ok...sounds cool, but how about Wong Fei Hung/Once Upon a Time in China (1991)...?

Is it good..?