AKA: Burning Paradise in Hell
Director: Ringo Lam
Writer: Nam Yin
Producer: Tsui Hark
Cast: Willie Chi, John Ching, Carman Lee, Wong Kam-Kong, Yeung Sing, Maggie Lin, Yuen Kam-Fai, Gordon Liu
Running Time: 104 min.
Holy crap, did Ringo Lam REALLY direct this?!? It’s a VERY far cry from what one would expect of the man who brought us Full Contact and the various “On Fire” movies (let’s not mention Van Damme, okay?). Very solid, enjoyable film, but a box office flop upon its release (star Willie Chi handles his fight scenes well enough, but is somewhat lacking in charisma)…and, as of this writing, the only DVD is a Region 0/PAL Dutch release with three lines where the subtitles switch from English to German.
Fong Sai Yuk (an angrier one than in the two Jet Li/Corey Yuen films) and his uncle Chi Nun are on the run from a huge group of Imperial soldiers because they’re members of the Shaolin temple, a big no-no in the current regime. They meet a runaway whore named Tou Tou before the soldiers catch them. Chi Nun is killed and Fong and Tou Tou are imprisoned in the Red Lotus Temple, where the lion’s share of the film takes place. There’s slave labor, skulls and dead bodies everywhere, and deathtraps aplenty for hapless prisoners to get killed by in various nasty ways. Not a nice place to live OR visit, though it would certainly be fun to send Harvey Weinstein there. It reminds me of the Mortal Kombat video games, except that Ed Boon and John Tobias didn’t stick their names everywhere in the background.
Fong has four principal adversaries to contend with while trapped in the Red Lotus Temple: Crimson, the commander of the troops who pursued him in the beginning; Hong, a former Shaolin pupil who has aligned himself with the enemy; Boroke, a fierce, masked woman with the hots for Hong; and Lord Kung, the demented, hedonistic overlord of the place, who is as much a prisoner as anyone else (“I want to enjoy life,” he says, “although life is unbearable.”). Fong has showdowns with all of them at some point, but, as has been mentioned already, the last battle is a letdown; it relies too much on super powers and shit (Kung’s favored weapon is not a sword or a spear, but a paintbrush), unlike the furious fights that precede it. Wires are used in those, too, but not in a way that is silly or excessive. The one in which a large, ornate bed becomes the focal point of the action is probably my favorite, mostly due to its very painful-looking conclusion.
There’s very little not to like about Burning Paradise. Great action, morbid imagery, multifaceted characters, and spiffy set design collide to make it one of the most enjoyable films I’ve seen in ages, Asian or otherwise.
Numskull’s Rating: 9/10
Ringo Lam’s first (and so far, only) kung-fu movie seems to go unnoticed by fans. I don’t even think it’s available on DVD. That’s too bad, as this film stands beside other, better-known kung-fu movies of the same era, such as Iron Monkey and the Once Upon a Time in China series. Basically, what Lam did was update the classic Shaw Brothers film, keeping intact a strong sense of gore and doom, while at the same time injecting some all around great martial arts into the mix. Burning Paradise looks and feels like something Chang Cheh would’ve helmed in the mid ’70s, had he been provided with the budget.
One thing that ruined the film for many was that Willie Ho was hyped as the “next Jet Li.” He isn’t by a long shot, though he isn’t that bad. Yu Rong-Guang is a much better martial artist, and should’ve been the star of the movie, other than portraying the turncoat monk Hong. Carman Lee, as Tou-Tou, gives a good performance in what is your basic role as the screaming girl who must always be rescued. Yet another tie to kung-fu movies of the past. And the actor portraying the villain of the piece, Elder Kung, goes way overboard as the demonistic ruler of the Temple. He uses blood to paint, and has the ability to not only fly, but fire specks of paint like projectiles from his brush.
Fong, his uncle, and Tou-Tou are accosted by a band of masked Chings and their leader, Crimson. This is the best part of the movie, as Fong takes on these guys in the middle of the desert. But Fong gets captured anyway, his uncle murdered by Crimson. From there, Fong and Tou-Tou are taken to the gothic Red Lotus Temple, where Elder Kung adds Tou-Tou to his stable of concubines, and puts Fong to work in the mines. Fong has a few run-ins with Hong, who serves as Kung’s second-in-command, before it’s revealed that Hong is only pretending to help Kung; he’s really trying to figure out a map of the Temple, to lead his Shaolin brothers to freedom. Fong and Hong, of course, team up to take out Elder Kung and his henchmen in the end.
Did I mention the gore? This movie freaked out my wife, it was so gory. Elder Kung rips off heads, people get sliced and diced by bladed traps, and the corpses of monks lie scattered about the Temple in unusual positions. All of this stands to make Burning Paradise more of a horror film than a genuine kung-fu movie.
Of course, it goes without saying that despite this, there’s still some comedy thrown into the mix, as is usual with modern-day HK movies; no matter the dark tone of a film, HK filmmakers of today will still find some way to add in goofy, Cantonese humor. The humor in Burning Paradise isn’t as obtrusive as in some other HK flicks, but at times it does come off as too forced. A few moments are genuinely funny, though, like when Fong and an old monk pretend they’re dead to fool the Chings, or when Yu Rong-Guang screams out “Who squeezed my dick?” during the final battle.
The martial arts on display is mostly wire-free. Fong and Hong flip around like acrobats while engaging in furious hand and weapons-based combat. Willie Ho’s portrayal of Fong is more hip than Jet Li’s, what with his huge broadsword and kick-ass attitude. The costumes are excellent across the board, though they go for a more realistic look than the Shaw Brothers-style metal armbands. Set-wise, the Red Lotus Temple looks genuinely creepy, and you start to feel sorry for these damn monks as they stumble into one deadly trap after another.
Overall, a good, recent kung-fu movie. Not the best ever, but I’d still like to see more movies like this coming out of Hong Kong than the usual junk.
Joe909’s Rating: 8/10
By Vic Nguyen
Director Ringo Lam ventures away from modern realism to direct this cynical, claustrophobic martial arts epic. Newcomer Willie Chi stars as Chinese folk hero Fong Sai Yuk, an imprisoned martial artist who must team up with fellow hero Hung Hei-kwan in order to defeat a powerful dictator and escape from a booby trap laden temple. Superb cinematography sets the dark tone of this production. That element, along with fast paced editing and slick wire-fu helps rank this one among Lam’s most accomplished films.
Vic Nguyen’s Rating: 7.5/10