Director: Ringo Lam
Stars: Lau Ching-Wan, Francis Ng, Amanda Lee
The murder of an architect turns out to be more than it seems, even after a man named Kwan (Ng) confesses to the killing. The investigating cop Pao (Lau) is suspect of Kwan's story, especially after he finds a set of blueprints and explosives in Kwan's home. It's obivous that Kwan was planning some sort of heist -- can Pao piece together the puzzle in time?
Full Alert was director Ringo Lam's return to Hong Kong after making the horrid Van Damme movie Maximum Risk. Those expecting a return to the hyper-kinetic action of Lam's last HK effort Full Contact will most likely be disappointed. Full Alert strike a balance somewhere between Lam's earlier gritty HK movies (such as the On Fire series) and his later work like Wild Search. The movie begins in a dark, almost film noir-ish tone as Pao begins to interrogate Kwan and his girlfriend (Lee, who really only provides pretty window dressing) and then goes into a very Hollywood-style crime thriller, complete with a car chase. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Lam handles the characters and story very well, never letting it degenerate into melodramatic mush. We see this most clearly in the scenes between Pao and his family. They're touching and add to the character's development, rather than bog the story down with sappy, cliched dialogue like many other films. It's small scenes like this that separate good directors from great ones.
People like Michael Bay might be able to put together decent action sequences, but one you look past the explosions there's really nothing there. I'm not knocking "pure" action movies -- certainly not many people will chide Jackie Chan or Wong Jing for making films with relatively lightweight stories or weak characters, since the action sequences are usually so original and satisfying. But when the whole package (action and drama) comes together, it's quite satisfying. Films like Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, The Killer and A Hero Never Dies prove that you can have an intelligent action movie, and Lam provides another one with Full Alert. Lam even manages to weave some symbolism about the 1997 takeover into this "standard" crime movie. I don't think Bay and his ilk even know what symbolism is, and if they do, they sure as hell don't know how to use it as subtlety as Lam does here.
Of course, it doesn't hurt when you have Lau Ching-Wan as your leading man. He is definitely one of the best actors working in HK, able to run the gamut from comedy to high drama. Lau gives a great performance as he slowly breaks down over the duration of the case. The final shot of the film, where Lau simply looks off-screen while contemplating all that has happened, speaks more than any speech or soliloquy could. Francis Ng, less over-the-top than many of his other roles as a criminal, is also quite good and provides a nice counterpoint to Lau's character.
After watching Full Alert, one can see why Lam was courted by Hollywood. You could easily substitute some decent American actors and a US city and you would have a very good Hollywood movie. It might not provide the biggest bang in HK cinema, but it should satisfy fans of Ringo Lam and crime/action films in general.
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