AKA: Island of Fire
Director: Chu Yen Ping
Writer: Fu Lee, Yen Yun Chiao
Producer: Chun-Hung; Jimmy Wang Yu
Cast: Jackie Chan (Sing Lung), Andy Lau Tak-Wah, Samo Hung Kam-Bo, Tony Leung Ka-Fai, Jimmy Wang Yu, Tao Chung Hwa, Ko Chun Hsiung
Running Time: 92/100 min.
By Alvin George
“The Prisoner” (aka “Island of Fire”) is a considerably better movie than its reputation might suggest. Jackie Chan did this movie in the early ’90s as a favor to Jimmy Wang Yu, who saved his ass from the Triads in 1980. It is true that Jackie has a relatively minor role in the film (in fact, Samo Hung has more screen time), but that doesn’t make it a bear to watch. There are some human touches to the story, as when Samo escapes from the brutal prison simply to be with his son, or when we find out how Jackie got into the prison (he needed to get a liver transplant on the black market for his dying girlfriend). I must admit, however, that the movie seems pretty unfocused.
It starts out with a cop’s father-in-law getting assassinated. Since the killer was a supposedly executed inmate, the cop (played by Tong Leung) gets himself arrested so he can investigate. But then the focus shifts abruptly to Samo’s dilemma and then to Jackie’s situation. There are scenes that borrow from “Cool Hand Luke,” as the various chain gang scenes and the part where a pretty girl unintentionally wipes a car window with her breast. Then there’s a big action finale in the Phillipines (my mom’s native country) that’s based on a plot development akin to the Bridget Fonda film “Point of No Return.” g (Hint: Why did the death-row inmate who killed Leung’s father-in-law have his life spared?) Jackie does have some cool fight scenes with what little screen time he has, and there are even outtakes at the end, surprising in a movie so serious.
I rented the DVD from Blockbuster, which includes commentar by Philip Rhee. However, a little of Rhee’s commentary goes a long way. I wouldn’t have the Rhee audio track turned on the whole time. I’d only turn it on during Jackie’s fight scenes and (perhaps) that big action finale. In all, “The Prisoner” is not a bad movie to sit through. It works on the level of a good direct-to-video movie (which this film is to some extent, since it never widely released to American theaters), if not as a Jackie Chan film.
Alvin George’s Rating: 6.5/10
At the risk of disappointing messires Bona and Carrey, I’m going to make this mostly serious. This movie has joined the likes of DEVIL’S ADVOCATE and THE TRIGGER EFFECT as Good Ideas That Could Have Been So Much More. I really liked the bare-bones stories, but the approach taken to making it all work was ghastly. I don’t know how much the screenwriters are to blame for this, but I’m sure that the bufoonery of Chu Yin-ping and Jimmy Wang Fuck Yu is at least partially responsible. The background plots for Tony Leung, Samo and Jackie are laid out almost in their entirety one at a time instead of going back and forth. Even worse, the basis for the final action scene doesn’t even begin to develop until the last 10 minutes of the movie, whereupon it is all sprung on the audience at once. Also, the security guards in this movie are inept beyond belief. They all turn their backs on an unlocked police car with the key in the ignition, allowing Samo’s character to make off with it…not once but twice. Furthermore, they allow him to run off into a field of tall grass, unsupervised, under the pretense of taking a shit knowing full well that he is a chronic escapee.
There were some other too-contrived-to-be-taken-seriously parts that detract from enjoyment of the movie. In two scenes (Wang Yu eating from the rice bowl and the inmates doing road work), the prisoners act with ridiculous cooperation. Unless every other reference to prison in the history of entertainment is a flat-out lie, the only respect these guys grant each other is reflective of how accomodating their assholes are. And how about the buxom lass with the flat tire? A bunch of hardened criminals (oh, man…bad choice of words…) see a woman for the first time in years, wearing a wet blouse, and instead of gang-banging her they elect Samo to change her tire while she seeks shelter from the rain. What the fuck!!! Plus, the damn music sucks. Hey Jeff, do you know what movie they ripped it off from? More importantly, do you know WHY the fuck anyone would want to use vacuum cleaner noise like this a SECOND time??? How about some simple harmonica tunes? Economical AND realistic. Besides those factors, there was another that made it impossible to just relax and enjoy the movie: the conditions under which it was made. Those of you who have read the JC Quiz (or the rest of this review, for that matter) have probably noticed my sneering contempt for Jimmy Wang Yu (a.k.a. The Anti-Christ), or at least his style of “business”. For those who don’t know, Jimmy Wang Yu is an actor and producer who has strong ties with the Triads (Chinese Mafia). After Lo Wei made Jackie a marked man, Wang Yu stepped in on Jackie’s behalf and made it safe for him to return to Hong Kong (after starring in the suicide-inducing Robert Clouse film THE BIG BRAWL). To pay off the debt he owed Wang Yu, Jackie appeared in a film he produced and hired Chu Yin-ping to direct: the abysmal FANTASY MISSION FARCE. Now, my own opinion is that Wang Yu should have been made an indentured servant to Chan for the rest of his worthless life after coercing him to participate in such a colossal waste of time, but that’s beside the point.
After FANTASY MISSION FARCE, Wang Yu got into the practice of getting major Hong Kong actors to appear in his films by informing them that if they did, he would see to it that certain other members of the Hong Kong Triads would NOT break every bone in their bodies. I’m paraphrasing, of course, but you get the idea…”You think it’s a silly film? Well, you’re entitled to your opinion, but you’re also entitled to your health, and the Triads over at Happyfuck Films might not see it that way.” Fuck you, asshole! Even if Wang Yu’s intentions are good and even though this sort of thing happens frequently in Hong Kong, who in the name of hell-bent fuck appointed this cocksucker Guardian Angel of the Hong Kong Superstars? For those of you who still aren’t getting the point, I HATE JIMMY WANG YU! JIMMY WANG YU MUST DIE!! DAMN JIMMY WANG YU!!! FUCK HIM, FUCK HIM, FUCK HIM!!!! Well, anyway, the plot of this movie appealed to me enough so that I would love to see a remake of it…hell, as a future screenwriter and (hopefully) director, maybe I’ll do it myself. And, since I’ve already got my version all figured out from the rest of this review, all I need now is $30 million or so to make it with! Unfortunately, the only probable way to get that kind of money quickly is to give James Cameron a blow job, and unlike every producer in Hollywood right now, I’m not willing to do that.
Numskull’s Rating: 7/10
By Jim Carrey
A horde of people knock this film, including Jackie himself. Remember though that Jackie is often the megalomaniac when it comes to favorite films he’s done, you notice his favorite films are “Police Story” & “Miracle”, funny that he starred and directed in both of them. When Wang Yu tried to help Jackie get away from Lo Wei, Jackie promised Wang Yu he’d do 2 films for him. First was the great, zany classic “Fantasy Mission Force”, second was this film, “Island of Fire”. Both of these films were produced by Wang Yu and Directed by great director Chu Yin-Ping, both films also had a cackle of stars in them.
This ones stars Jackie, Sammo, Andy Lau, Tony Leung Ka-Fei, Jimmy Wang Yu, and O Chung-Hung. The film is very underrated and is an extremely well made prison drama, with some good action scenes as well. The movie consists of 5 principle characters whose different lifestyles cross each other in this hell of a jail. Tony is the main character, he plays a cop who goes undercover to find out about the mysterdeath of an assasin who killed his menter. The strange part is that the man was supposedly excuted in this jail 3 months ago. Sammo plays an inmate in the prison who escapes all the time so he can see his son, he is the character you really feel for. Jackie plays a pool shark who is supposed to fix an important pool game for the Triads, he doesn’t so they injure his girlfriend. He must earn money to pay for his girlfriend’s operation or she will die. He then goes to win money by gambling, but the men think he cheated so he gets in a great fight with this small time hoods, he kills the leader so and he is sent to prison.
Andy Lau plays the brother of the leader who sets himself up to prison so he can get revenge on Jackie. Wang Yu plays the leader of the inmates in the prison, like the speaker of the law in the “Island of Dr. Moreau”, who the warden wants to kill off due to the fact that he has more influence on the other inmates than the warden does. The films is loaded with some great emotional scenes, that is the heart of the film. It also has 3 really good Jackie fights to keep the Chan fan happy, as well as an explosive end. The sequel to this film, “Jail in Burning Island” with the same 5 character format as “IOF”, is even better than this one. I thought it was the second best film last year, no Jackie though it starsTakeshi Kaneshiro, Nicky, Jackson Lau (from First Strike), Ng Man-Tat, Anthony Wong, Kok Siu-Man, & Chan Chung-Yung. The big secret of this film is that many people don’t even realize that the action director for this film is Sammo himself. Watch and enjoy, but try to find “Jail In Burning Island at all cost”, that film is 10/10.
Jim Carry’s Rating: 8/10
By Vic Nguen
Everybody has been bashing this movie, including Jackie himself, but personally, I liked it. Even though Jackie was in it for about 20 minutes, the supporting cast made the film more enjoyable in his absence. The plot is somewhat confusing, with everybody in the cast getting their own plotline, all based in the prison. Then comes the finale, where the 4 main stars are pulled together into a final assassination/gunfight against a whole army. Jackie’s appearence in the film was very enjoyable, especially the scenes where he is shooting pool. The 2 fights, including one with Andy Lau, aren’t bad, but could’ve been better, and the finale had it’s moments. This was another of the Jimmy Wang Yu debt films, it was not as enjoyable as a normal Jackie Chan film, but this film is MUCH better than the horrid piece of crap Fantasy Mission Force. I may like it, but you may hate it.
Vic Nguyen’s Rating: 7/10
To quote JC from “Operation Condor”…. “Expect the worst and hope for the best.” That is exactly what I did with “Island of Fire”. So instead of being disappointed at how bad it was, I was actually happy because it was better than I imagined. The story stole more from more movies than you could ever imagine. But who cares, it’s got JC, Samo, Andy Lau, Tony Leung Ka Fai, Jimmy Wang Yu. Although the fighting seemed pretty unprofessional, it was ok, because I expected the worst. The shootout at the end was great. It almost felt like a John Woo shootout. I have no idea what Tony Leung said to the guy in the last scene of the film. The people who made the laserdisc forget to slap some subs for that scene. This movie can be enjoyed as long as you don’t expect greatness from it.
Clint’s Rating: 5/10