Don’t Play With Fire

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“A grim cinematic road-accident; hard to watch, yet harder to stop watching.”

This bleak, nihilist view of 1980’s Hong Kong ran into severe trouble with local censors, for its depiction of the colony as populated solely by violent brutes. Leading these is Pearl (Lin), a teenage girl who redefines the term “troubled”, and whose brother (Lo) is a cop with a short fuse. She witnesses a hit-and-run accident and browbeats the three kids involved into joining her in a relentlessly-escalating series of violent escapades. When they find themselves in possession of 800 million yen belonging to gun-smugglers, you just know things are going to go wrong. And they do: pointedly, Hark finishes the film with photos taken during the 1967 riots in the colony. Make of that what you will…

Right from the start, with Pearl sticking pins in the head of a mouse, the film doesn’t shy from depicting cruel behaviour, particularly towards animals, and there’s hardly a sympathetic character in the film. Pearl does at least have some justification for her lack of morality, and her attempts to weld her new “friends” into something like a team, or even a family are touchingly pathetic. At one point she suggests they’ll escape to Canada and live happily ever after, which is definitely not going to happen. However, the film swerves wildly around, leaping from plot to plot with little coherence, though censorship may explain why certain threads, such as the bombing campaign, seem especially underdeveloped.

Whether robbing a gang of Japanese tourists, or taking revenge on a banker who gave them bad information, Pearl is the lynch-pin who keeps the movie focused, and when she departs, the interest level drops noticeably. Still, if you’ve only seen Tsui’s subsequent, more fantastic films, the venomous realism will be a shock. Keep an eye out for him in an uncredited role as a toilet attendant(!), as well as fellow directors Ronnie Yu and Stephen Shin.

Dir: Tsui Hark
Stars: Lin Chen-chi, Lo Lieh, Albert Au, Paul Che
a.k.a. Dangerous Encounters of the 1st Kind

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