Tag Archives: Ti-Lung

Cinema-Maniac: First Shot (1993)

I always disagreed with the notion that there’s a set number of ways to write stories. However, there are times where it does feel like that is the case. Not just in movies, but in general media that I consume. It also doesn’t help in the little time I did spend in college taking classes on writing further expanded my knowledge on fictional writing. One thing I didn’t need to learn in my classes is that execution is key. No matter how many type of stories you write, or experience understanding how to make those elements work together can lead to making a good product. Hence, today’s movie while overly familiar for viewers who’ve seen The Untouchables execute the same general story into a decent film.

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Alright, time for another full body checkup from the entire force.

First Shot is set during a time of widespread police corruption, Wong Yat-chung (Ti Lung) is a stubborn cop who takes on both the mob and the political establishment. In terms of story, it’s lifts from heavily from Brain De Palma’s The Untouchables (1987). If you’ve seen that film than you more, or less will know what to expect from First Shot. However, if you haven’t seen The Untouchable, here’s a couple of lifted plot points. In both, you have a good guy cop against the corrupt police system, the main character recruiting at a academy to ensure the officer they recruit aren’t corrupted, the struggle to maintain a key witness safe from the film’s villain, a scene with the main character departs from his family to put them in police protection, a vocal confrontation between the film’s hero & villain surrounded by the press after a ally of the protagonist gets killed, and both leading character getting betrayed by other high ranking officers. Also, both movies are based around true events. To call the writing of First Shot uninspired would be an understatement.

Now that the similarities have been brought up, the area they stand apart in are easy. First Shot is significantly less subtle with its portrayal of factual events. For starter, all the corrupt police officers have no qualm about showing how corrupt they are in public. Dialogue goes of it way to reinforce this fact in several scenes. There’s the slimy villain whom typically who to do something evil whenever he’s onscreen. Making the preceding events in the story a basic good guys versus bad guy story. It keeps the viewer engage in its predictable story by fleshing out its heroes, and going through fulfilling character arcs. Just like in The Untouchable, no one in this film safe from death, and it’s uncertain who is exactly next up on the chopping floor. The cast of First Shot aren’t fleshed out enough to ensure you’ll care about them, but you will see beyond them cannon fodder.

Another advantage to the film is the chase itself to lock up the villain. Seeing the heroes coming inches close to lock away their man is an engaging part of the film. Same with the deviation whenever it goes away from it source of inspiration. Alleviating the serious with some comedic scenes which generally tend to be less over the top than films typically produce in Hong Kong around this time. Resulting in a dynamic cast of heroes who makes the film somewhat worthwhile when action is absent.

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Man, looks at that face on the left

What garner mix results are some of the subplots. While characters are generally fleshed out, minus the villains, some of the subplots come out of nowhere. In the middle of the film’s climactic action sequence, one of the character reveals he’ll take revenge against the man who killed his father. This plot point was never brought up beforehand making it a convoluted way to add tension in the climax. There’s also the romantic subplot which isn’t as bad, though doesn’t come across as tragic as the film expected it to be. Would have probably helped if it didn’t immediately switch gear into a climatic action sequence over lingering on the fact an important character just died. There’s also the unexpected gay bar scene where the heroes have to undercover to gather intel, and it’s um, something odd to place into the movie to get a quick laugh. I’ll leave it at that.

What it lacks in writing quality it makes up for it in star power. For starter, the usually great Ti Lung delivers in being a good leading man. While nowhere near his best work, Ti Lung in First Shot becomes the embodiment of his character making the typical good cop feel more human. Unlike the writing, Ti Lung imbues more emotion into scenes than what would have been required of him. For example, when he’s confront Simon Yam in alley it would have been enough if Ti Lung just come across as a bitter man. However, Ti Lung comes across as more understanding, and disappointment from how he deliver his dialogue. Of course, Ti Lung partakes in some action sequences, but there’s not much of them here in terms of gunplay. What there is in fight sequences are also brief, though well put together to make up for the lack of action. I wasn’t expecting Ti Lung to partake in a choreograph fight sequence against Waise Lee in the climax, but I welcome that.

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Do you feel lucky punk? Well, do yah?

Simon Yam delivers the best performance in the cast as Sam Mok. Portraying a police officer who seeks redemption for his misgivings. He comes across the most humane out of his co-stars. While other actors also do a good job, they do feel samey since the script doesn’t offer much differentiation between them. Yam is the exception convincingly turning around a character whose fearful for his life as a officer, and seamlessly transform it into an officer looking to do right. Portraying the film’s closest thing to a complex character in a natural progression despite having to share the screen with several other actors. All the while never losing his charming side to him that makes him likable.

Maggie Cheung in the film doesn’t offer much in her role. He does well, but unfortunately unlike her male co-star she only gets one moment to portray any sadness for her character. She given much of the exposition to deliver, although she does make the most of what she can in a thankless role. Then there’s Canti Lau, and Andy Hui playing the young cadets who are best friends. While the script never capitalizes on the potential of these characters the actor sure do. It’s unlikely you’ll be shedding tears whenever one of these two bites the dust, but you’ll care to some degree. Canti Lau does pretty well in his fight scenes.

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Diner scenes, typically the most dangerous for criminals

Waise Lee plays the film villain, and chews the scenery in all his scenes. He holds nothing back in comically playing his playing role as serious as possible. He lacks much in the way of facial expressions aside from looking angry in every scene he’s in. Same thing applies to Batt Leung-Gam who plays a silence henchman. He lacks the menacing presence for his type of character, but makes up for his appearances with his fighting abilities in his action sequences. Director David Lam does a competent job helming the movie, but nothing to elevate the movie unlike his cast of actors. Finally, Lowell Lo composed the music for the film. While the only piece of music in the film that stands out is the one that plays the movie out during the ending credit it’s all around serviceable. It’s hardly noticeable, but does the job fine.

First Shot is a solid crime action flick in its own right. It doesn’t come close to matching it’s source of inspiration, The Untouchable, on any level. What it does do is execute a similar story into a straight forward action movie with mild success.

Rating: 7/10

 

Poor Subtitles Quality

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My favorite badly sub line of the movie

In the off chance you somehow manage to find a viewable copy of this by any means the hardsubs are very poor. Several times throughout my viewing of the film would there be grammatical, and spelling errors. Other points portions of the subtitles would be cut off making it easy to lose vital information. Considering at the time of this posting I’ve yet to find any other official release of First Shot. The poor subtitles will be a drawback for anyone with a passing interesting to view it, or unintentionally fun by how bad it is. Either way, take that in account you plan on viewing First Shot at any point.

Cinema-Maniac: City War (Yi dan hong chun) (1988) Chinese Heroic Bloodshed Movie Review

City War (Yi dan hong chun) follows two buddy cops; the calm, and collected Dick Lee (played by Chow Yun-Fat), and the hot-headed Ken Chow (played by Ti Lung) in their everyday life when drug lord Ted Yiu (played by Norman Chu) is released from prison seeking vengeance. Despite the classification on numerous film sites calling City War (Yi dan hong chun in Chinese) an action film it doesn’t offer much in terms of action. It’s two-third crime drama sprinkled with comedy with the final act switching gear to an action driven resolution. To a certain degree, anyone familiar with Korean action cinema will feel familiar this type of structure for an action film. However, in this is an instance where the film stumbles in being a drama having no pay off for your patience. It knows what it wants to be, and what it needs to do to pull off its own story, but not how to get there. Having a jarring jump between Dick Lee more comedic centric scenes to contrast Ken Chow more dramatic scenes. There’s nothing like the smooth transition of seeing Chow Yun Fat going on a date to smoothly transition into Ti Lung arresting a criminal with grim music playing. Unfortunately, for the film the dramatic scenes usually incorporate one detrimental flaw each differently preventing these scenes from having the full effects they should.

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The officer is just as confused as I am with Ti Lung clothing.

For example, half of the motivation for Ted Yiu (the film’s villain) vengeance is that his balls were shot off. I would like to be joking, but since the film is subtitled there’s no mistaking what I (and other viewers) have read. The serious delivery of this revelation comes off as unintentionally silly since balls being shot off is held to the same significance as someone important in Ted Yiu’s life getting killed. This plot point could have been taken seriously if there was more added to it. Only once does the film do anything with this plot point, and it ain’t much. Ted Yiu, while having sex, with his girlfriend suddenly reminds him of that incident, and that’s it. Something like Ted Yiu possibly wanting kids in the future would have made this silly motivation easier to embraced. This whole “shot off my balls” motive undercuts the other half of Ted Yiu motive for vengeance which is enough to maintain the serious tone of the story. You can also probably make an accurate guess on what Ted Yiu other motivation is if you’re familiar with Hong Kong action flicks when it comes to cops vs. crooks.

A major hindrance in the film is the lack restraint on the film’s listed three writers. Portions of City War will have scenes that feel like they go on far longer than they actually should. For example, a scene where Dick Lee goes on a blind date, and shows him joyously interact with his blind date. The intention of the awkwardly comedic scene is clear, but lingers what feels like minutes of Dick Lee interacting with a character who doesn’t make another appearance in the film. For a while, it forgets it’s mostly a crime drama becoming a romantic comedy in the second act before returning to crime drama without ease. Given the film had three writers it certainly comes across that the film didn’t have a unifying vision, nor cohesion in combining several ideas together.

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Hm, I wonder if these are the bad guys?

There’s also the in your face subtlety of some its dialogue that attempt to provide some sort of commentary about law enforcement. There are three instances where the film characters would simply say something along the line of (paraphrasing) “More regulations are making it harder for good police officers to capture criminals”. Now imagine that, but put even more bluntly because the film will sprinkle these odd dialogue at random moments. When this happens, the film comes to a complete halt just to make sure you, the audience, like this sentence, get the point of what is being said to you. It would have been less damaging if the film actually bothered showing the consequences of going against these regulations instead of just ending abruptly like it did. Another reason this commentary does not work is everything within the story goes of it way to justify going against these regulations. Without a balance depiction the commentary comes off tacked on. Yes, it also contains a strictly follow the rules, promotion seeking lieutenant as a bonus whose only purpose is shove the film’s point about laws preventing cops from capturing criminals.

City War final act is where the action finally comes into place, but lacking the emotional resonant intended. A major reason for this is Ken Chow is hardly shown doing anything else besides police work. Ken Chow is meant to serve as the film emotional center given the events that transpired; however, Ken Chow is hardly shown interacting with anyone else besides Dick Lee when it’s not job related so the importance of anyone else in his life does not come into fruition. Ken Chow lost is meant to be sad just because it’s meant to be sad. Ringing a hollow feeling when he decides to take justice into his own hands. Another issue is regarding his attitude towards anyone giving him any kind of opposition. Certainly doesn’t help him, along with everyone else, naturally act impulsively stupid in order to force itself to tell the story it wants.

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A rare still of unscripted laughter of both Chow Yun-Fat (left), and Ti Lung (right) when reading about the film’s commentary on police regulations.

The ending is something that just happens abruptly. Granted the main conflict is resolved, but it makes the instances of characters bluntly talking about how difficult it is for police officers to do their job seem pointless. Another downside to the abrupt ending is the absence of weight. Due to the final act being action driven from scenes of tragic loss; character reflection would have been acceptable to linger on are glossed over. Making two acts worth of character building go to an immediate waste in favor of showing people getting blasted with bullets.

Chow Yun-Fat, and Ti Lung performances are easily the best part of an otherwise misguided film. These two actors, whom worked together in John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow (1986) basically play the reversal of their characters from that film. Yun-Fat plays the calm, and collected Dick Lee while Ti Lung plays the hot headed Ken Chow. Ti Lung is given the heavy lifting duty of carrying the film drama almost entirely himself. Being able to make a character that lacks depth sympathetic through his performance. He never over states, or over deliver in any of his scenes. Chow Yun Fat is varied in his performance, but is given some bad comedy to work with. He’s able to make some of the jokes passable while at other times you just want him to shut up. Despite the stupidity of Chow Yun Fat, and Ti Lung characters both actors are able to prevent them from becoming hateable. When on screen together both Chow Yun Fat, and Ti Lung raises the quality of the film, even if it is briefly.

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Coming soon…no wait this man has no balls.

 

Norman Chau whom plays the villain Ted Yiu plays his part with a straight face. Only once in the film is he allowed to humanize his character, and it’s when he’s outside of prison for the first time in ten years. After that point, he’s just straight evil leaving his performance on auto pilot. His mannerisms, facial expression, and dialogue delivery remains the same throughout its entire runtime.

In terms of action for what little there is the choreography is fine. The first action sequence at Ti Lung character’s house has a goon tearing up Lung’s house with a barrage of bullets before it eventually becomes a somewhat grounded fight scene. Hand to hand combat is mostly one sided with Lung character barely being able to hold his own. There’s no complex fighting of any kind done in this scuffle as the most elaborate it gets is Ti Lung kicking the villain goon, and while he’s falling the goon shoots some glass. Despite the small apartment the stunt work is commendable as the two actors bodies aren’t afraid to get tossed around. As typical of 80s, and 90s action flicks glass anything is not spared from destruction.

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Can’t blame these two for not liking the turns of events.

Finally, the climax where the remainder of the violence finally unfolds is somewhat interesting. Chow Yun Fat goes to interrupt a deal at a bus terminal starting off with Chow Yun Fat being a one man army against an entire gang. In fashion of other movies of this era, Chow Yun Fat can run into a barrage of bullets without getting hit, nearly always hitting the goons trying to kill him, and just barely dodging bullets when the action choreography is going into a new part of its staging. Unlike in nearly all of John Woo films, when Chow Yun Fat actually gets shot in this film working it way into the action choreography without adding much to it. Instead of intensifying the climax seeing Chow Yun Fat in a wounded state fight for his life. Chow Yun Fat just limps for a couple of seconds, and that’s all. Same thing also applies to actor Ti Lung who in spite of receiving a direct hit with an axe to his body moments later is able to swing that same axe with ease to kill a person seconds later. A couple of more seconds later, does a some very brief fighting making the axe wound pointless. When it comes to the final confrontation it feels empty overall due to the lack of rising action. Also, the lack of applying injury to the action choreography certainly adds to that problem too. Finally, the score of the movie works just fine when it’s needed. Nothing that’ll stick with you (especially for me) once the film has ended.

City War (1988) is unable to fashion a compelling crime drama for two-thirds of its total time to columinate into an explosion of bullets filled emotions in its final act like intended. The pacing is an hindrance either lingering on scenes longer than it should have, or rushing moments that should have been significant. The action sequences that are packed at the end of the film start off well before making whatever action it does have feel hollow no matter how much the film wants to emphasize the emotion that you should be feeling. It’s a sloppily made film that had the potential to draw in crime film, and action fans. Instead, it’s a film that is unable to function cohesively enough for either type of viewer to like.

Rating: 4/10

Post Review Note:

Also, if you do plan on seeing City War regardless of my negative review I strongly recommend you avoid looking up any trailers since it spoils the biggest turning point in the film, and sets up unrealistic expectation it’s going to be an action heavy film instead of the drama it is for the majority of its run.