Reviewed by: Timothy White
Director: Ringo Lam Ling-Tung
Screenplay: Ringo Lam Ling-Tung
Producer: Ringo Lam Ling-Tung
Cast: Lau Ching-Wan, Peter Yung Kam-Cheung, Chin Kar-Lok, Monica Chan Fat-Yung, Emily Kwan Bo-Wai, Francis Ng Chun-Yu, Amanda Lee Wai-Man Jack Gao (Ko Kin)
Runtime: 120 min
Date released: 1997
Rating: **** (out of four stars)
The Real Ringo Lam is Back!!!!
Full Alert poster, taken from www.geocities.com/Tokyo/Towers/2038/.
Finally! Ringo Lam is back making movies in his home, Hong Kong, after his flirtation with Hollywood and Jean-Claude in Maximum Risk (not a bad movie, but still not as good as Lam's Hong Kong movies). We've had to wait a while for this movie; it was delayed initially due to a strike by the Hong Kong Film and Television Lighting Association (representing lighting technicians) over salaries (that wouldn't happen in Singapore! But then, we wouldn't have Hong Kong-type movies made in Singapore, either...). And the film was logistically challenging; reportedly, it was filmed in a machine factory in Lau Fau Shan, where a 60 foot long water pipe was built, at a cost of $1 million, for the film's climactic final scene. The film as a whole was relatively expensive for a Hong Kong film, at a reported $20 million. But the film was finally completed, and those of us who love Hong Kong action films can rejoice!
Full Alert is a good old-fashioned crime caper movie. It stars Lau Ching-wan (is it just me, or does he look a little like Mr. Bean?) as Inspector Pao, a rather grizzled veteran of the police force. He tends to have a short fuse, made even shorter by a criminal named Mak (Ng Chun Yu) who, after being arrested for the murder of an architect, escapes with the help of his Taiwanese gangster buddies, with whom Mak is planning a major robbery. Mak, his buddies and his girlfriend are planning to rob the Hong Kong Jockey Club; not only does the Club have lots of money, but it is also a personal matter for Mak. He lost all his money betting on horses at the track, but more important than that is the challenge of breaking into an underground vault that is considered impenetrable. Mak, a former architect himself, plans to enter from underneath, through an abandoned drain pipe that runs underneath the Club.
What really gets under Pao's skin is Mak's taunting attitude; he knows how smart he is, and knows just how Pao plans on preventing the heist. Mak is also something of a philosopher, and strikes a chord within Pao when he talks to him about the difficulty, and haunting aftermath, of actually killing another man. While Mak is cool and calculating, Pao is emotional and prone to explosive action. The final confrontation between the two men is worthy of any number of other Hong Kong action movie finales.
Although Lam claims that he designed the movie to be much more like Hollywood action movies than like those from Hong Kong, the kind movies for which he is so well known, it is really much grittier than most American action movies; it is closer to such movies as Se7en than to Die Hard or even Maximum Risk. From its opening black and white shots (don't worry, the rest of the movie is in color), Full Alert signals its down-to-earth, dirty and edgy qualities. Instead of knocking us over with expensive special effects and bombastic background music, it creates tension and suspense, largely eschewing background music altogether. There are a few special effects, but they are not pervasive or even impressive; an explosion in an apartment, seen from the street, looks patently fake. But don't worry, the pleasures of this movie are not its special effects.
If you are a fan of Hong Kong action movies, and especially the gritty crime movies featuring gunplay and car chases instead of flying fists and kicking feet, definitely check out Full Alert. And something to think about while you're watching the movie: Ng Chun Yu, complaining about how cold the water was in the drain pipe, said that he tried to keep himself warm by pissing in the water...now that's inventiveness!