Theme Tuesday - Ringo Lam - Full Contact (1992)
For February 2019, I will be exploring the works of Hong Kong action director and master Ringo Lam, who passed away last year.
Ringo Lam has stated that he wanted to put his political films (the On Fire films fall in this category) behind him, largely because of the pressure that he was getting from the government and powerful people. I would say that he succeeded. Full Contact is a somewhat straightforward revenge movie in which Ko Fei is left for dead by a gang that betrays him (including his own cousin). We see him go through a training montage while, in his absence, his cousin Sam also ingratiates himself with Fei’s girlfriend in typical slime ball fashion. We’ve seen these tropes in so many bad 80’s movies, but it works here because Lam has a tight control over how he wants his characters to look and behave as well as the frankly quite impressive action and suspense scenes. It also help when you don’t watch this movie with English dubbing because that will automatically raise the cheese factor to artery-hardening levels.
As I come to the conclusion of my month dedicated to exploring the movies of Ringo Lam, it is clear to me that he is not a subtle director. The emotions he portrays are big and the actors give big performances, even when they are not naturally flamboyant characters. In Full Contact, Chow Yun-Fat’s badass Ko Fei is supposed to be the strong, silent type but he sure knows fancy knifework. There is, of course, the very problematic character of Lau Ngang, who is a nymphomaniac, a type of character you only see in the movies, at least the way Bonnie Fu plays it. I have to say, though, that Bonnie Fu plays her with such archness that she’s always fun to watch on screen and not just because she is about as comically sexual as Jessica Rabbit. She could easily have been a Bond girl along the lines of Xenia Onatopp.
All in all, Full Contact is a trashterpiece (trash masterpiece), a term I’m sure exists somewhere. This was the kind of movie that I immediately thought of when I hear the words “80’s or 90’s Hong Kong thriller,” a work of no redeeming moral value but executed with incredible style and a distinct pleasure in indulging in the violent and reprehensible. The movie veers pretty close to parody, yet there is enough real filmmaking craft, especially in its action set pieces, for this to be seen as a legitimately great example of the genre. It also cuts down considerably on what I have viewed as the weaker parts of Lam’s films (namely meaningful dialogue and exposition), for which the lizard part of my mind is quite grateful.