‘The Big Heat’ Review

1998. THE BIG HEAT - Mega StarHong Kong. 91 minutes.
Mega Star DVD. Region 0. NTSC.
Directed by Johnnie To and Andrew Kam Yeung-Wah
Written by Gordon Chan
With Waise Lee, Philip Kwok, Paul Chu, Joey Wong

A drill bit pierces a hand, and we�re off on a dark ride through the violent battleground of police and thieves in late 1980�s Hong Kong.

Chief Inspector John Wong (Waise Lee) suffers spinal nerve damage that is spreading to his hands. Just as he is prepared to resign from the police force, his superior officer informs him that Skinny Tse, an old compatriot, has been killed in Malaysia. Evidence links the crime to both gangster boss Mr. Han (Paul Chu Kong) and wealthy businessman Mr. Ho. Inspector Wong resolves to stick around to avenge the death of Skinny, who once saved his life; he even temporarily breaks up with his fianc�e, a scientist, so he can concentrate fully on the case. Joining him in his righteous cause are his usual, tough as nails partner (the dependable Philip Kwok Chun-Fung, who also served as one of the action directors), as well as Ong Chat Fu (Lo King Wah), a veteran cop from Malaysia, and Lun, a clumsy rookie (Matthew Wong Hin-Mung). Lun attracts the attentions of friendly nurse Ada (Joey Wong Cho-Yin). The team sifts through various red herrings — and takes the law into their own hands — before discovering the full extent of Mr. Han�s criminal activities. Then the police face their most daunting challenge: staying alive long enough to bring Mr. Han to justice.

Though a few seams show in what must have been a low-budget production, the pace is so furious that there�s no time to slow down and complain. Based on an early script by Gordon Chan, produced by Tsui Hark, and directed by Johnnie To and Andrew Kam Yeung-Wah, the picture is jam-packed with memorable moments: Skinny Tse�s fiery demise; the unveiling of the still smoldering (!) burned corpse of said Skinny; a pedestrian chase across highways and byways ending in a bloody fall; a gunfight between cops crudely defined by drenching the proceedings in alternating red and blue light; and the brutal climax, which builds intensity before concluding in satisfying fashion. Little moments count too: an umbrella slapped away by an angry, scolding superior is defiantly run down by determined cops; the look on a tough cop�s face when his mother visits him in a hospital. Waise Lee is appropriately stoic as Chief Inspector Wong. He provides sufficient gravity to ground the relentless, often airborne action in something resembling reality.

The Mega Star DVD included Cantonese and Mandarin DD 5.1 audio tracks, in which the post-synched audio sounded a bit hollow. If you watch the Cantonese version, the English subtitles often appear before the dialogue began. But that’s because they are synched to match the Mandarin audio track. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles were also featured, along with trailers for RETURN OF THE LUCKY STARS, THREE AGAINST THE WORLD, and BLUE LIGHTNING, as well as the original theatrical trailer for THE BIG HEAT.

The current licensor, Fortune Star/Deltamac, has issued a DVD that reportedly includes the original mono audio tracks.

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