Full Contact

By Adam Lippe

083The combination of the transfer of Hong Kong back into the hands of the Chinese and the Chow Yun-Fat/John Woo films like The Killer and Hard Boiled caused Hollywood to take notice of these foreign directors and actors wanting to cross over and establish themselves in a new venue. Producer Moshe Diamant, who had specialized in low budget action and horror films like The Curse and Double Impact, was the most aggressive on the director front, bringing three major talents into his stable. Each of them directed a Jean Claude Van Damme film as their first US project, John Woo did Hard Target, Ringo Lam did Maximum Risk, and Tsui Hark did Double Team. Only Woo has been able to move onto larger scale and more diverse (comparatively, in terms of projects) as well as obtaining more notoriety and respect. Hark was always more of a producer than a director, whose films know no coherence and concentrate on odd camerawork and flashy visuals, even when he’s in his element, such as Time and Tide. The fact that Lam has now resolved himself to direct to video Van Damme projects like Replicant and In Hell is the most disheartening, seeing as his skills were the most apparent of the three, and he is the most versatile. This is quite clear in films like Prison on Fire (which features my favorite Chow Yun-Fat performance) and Full Contact.

fullcontact009Like Prison on Fire, which is a very standard prison film elevated by amazing acting and pathos, Full Contact is a barely developed action movie ignited by Lam’s panache, Chow’s acting, an array of other charming performances, and just about the sleaziest 95 minutes on film. This is a truly down and dirty movie, depravity and nastiness is apparent in every frame. You will be hard pressed to find a single scene in which characters are not battered and bruised. Lam uses constant close-ups of bloody appendages, welts, bruises, and anything else that will get across how much pain the characters suffer throughout the film. One character unloads an entire clip into a tied up man’s face from two feet away.  Basically, any character who lives longer than ten minutes will suffer enough injuries to cover his body with scars. When the villain gets a massage, it’s almost on behalf of the audience.

The story is barely thought out and relies more on individual moments to carry along the potentially repetitive action sequences. The film opens with a robbery at an antique shop, where the thieves needlessly shoot hostages, just because they can and because they enjoy it. There really isn’t a moment in the entire film that doesn’t have a sadistic edge to it. An early line of dialogue sums it up pretty well:

“You must be cruel to be successful. The world is insane! Sympathy will kill you.”

fullcontact002Anyway, this introduction establishes one group of ruthless criminals who eventually join forces with Chow Yun-Fat’s character, Jeff, who is trying to help his friend out of a gambling debt and so he agrees to a bank robbery. The rest of the film is played out as the comparative “villains” double cross Jeff and everyone swears revenge and enacts it for the remainder of the film. Simon Yam plays Judge, the homosexual leader of the gang, which includes a promiscuous female named Virgin, who always wants sex and seems to enjoy throwing herself at anyone, especially when they aren’t interested and her boyfriend, who is so physically enormous that he wouldn’t seem out of place in The Story of Ricky. Yam spends his time flirting with Yun-Fat, and an interesting situation occurs, something that in an action movie of the 80’s and 90’s, apart from To Live and Die in LA, you would never see. Yun-Fat flirts back. In fact he sends his stripper/wife away before the initial heist and never comes back to her. There is a respect/bond between them that although they are adversaries, it wouldn’t seem right for a female to get in the way.

Though the charges have been previously leveled at Full Contact, anyone who calls the film misogynist and homophobic, clearly isn’t paying attention to the fact that everyone is beaten up, shot at, and killed, there’s no specific acts that suggest any pre-determined hatred. Since the violence and negative portrayals span every single character, it’s an equal opportunity offender.

fullcontact010The fact that the film was made in 1992 provides both advantages and disadvantages. Chow’s wife does her stripping to Extreme’s “Get the Funk Out,” which may have you laughing as I was. There is a cheesy Rockyesque comeback sequence complete with weightlifting, swim training, motorcycles, lens flare hero shots and a cheesy 80’s power ballad. At any moment you might expect the A-Team to show up. But, this is the first film to use bullet time, although not in quite the way we know it from The Matrix. The second to last action sequence features many shots which literally follow bullets as they leave their gun (we can see the bullet itself) up to the point of contact, or entry, if you count the bullet that goes right through a henchman’s head. Lam reused a lot of these same sequences for Maximum Risk four years later.

Since the movie is rather spare plot wise, it’s a good thing that the action is blistering, and the camerawork and stylish angles intoxicating. Watch specifically for the glistening and bloody knife sequence, which is stunning. The fact that everyone suffers so much throughout gives the film an authenticity missing from other similar types of films. While a hero in a typical action film will somehow manage to avoid being shot even after the bad guys fire hundreds of bullets in his direction, and he is only ever hurt for dramatic purposes, Lam eschews this cliché immediately, and there is nothing keeping anyone from a good old fashioned stabbing or bullet wound.

This review refers to the Meh Ah Region 0 NTSC remastered version of Naked Killer.

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fullcontact001Video:

Though this is a supposedly remastered disc, and finally in anamorphic widescreen, the bit rate is much higher, with the video using 4.5gb of space, this looks to be the same transfer which was taken from the LD. When the opening credits come up, watch as it appears as if a projectionist has to adjust the title to center itself. Color separation is poor, it is very dark and there are lots of film speckles. To be fair, it does look similar to how I saw it in the theater, but that was in 1996. It’s odd that practically all Hong Kong movies from this era seem to have this same look, often plagued by color bleeding, with constant scratches and no proper black level. This film screams out for HKL to get their hands on it and do a proper transfer.
The subtitles are really quite atrocious. During the scene where Yun-Fat meets Yam for the first time and doesn’t want to rob the bank with them, questioning his company, he says, “With such bitch and bastard?” This continues throughout with lines such as, “May be relevant with death youth.”  Misspellings are everywhere as well. I’d rather not find out what happens when you “crash” a penis.

Audio:

The DTS track (take the Cantonese, as the Mandarin track is clearly dubbed) is rather fraudulent, as it just a tinny mono thinned out. Listen especially to the chair fight and how phony it sounds, especially as the chairs break over people’s heads and during the little musical riff on Public Enemy’s portion of Bring The Noise. However, this is typical of virtually every 5.1 and DTS mix I’ve heard on a Mei Ah or Universe Laser disc.

fullcontact006Extras:

All that we get are synopsis and some cast and crew lists which are in Chinese only.

Overall:

This a wonderfully mean spirited movie, rarely will you see people treat each other so badly in such an entertaining fashion outside of a Neil LaBute (In the Company of Men) film. The transfer and sound mixes are quite lacking, but don’t interfere with the possible enjoyment of the film. Extras are practically non-existent.

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By Adam Lippe

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Black Dynamite has nothing new to say about Blaxploitation films, it just does a decent job of copying what an inept [...]


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Featured Quote (written by me)

On Cold Fish:

Though the 16 year old me described the 1994 weepie Angie, starring Geena Davis as a Brooklyn mother raising her new baby alone, as “maudlin and melodramatic,” Roger Ebert, during his TV review, referring to the multitude of soap-operaish problems piling up on the titular character, suggested that it was only in Hollywood where Angie would get a happy ending. “If they made this movie in France, Angie would have shot herself.”

Well Cold Fish was made in Japan, where Angie would have shot herself and that would have been the happy ending.