Prison on Fire
Director: Ringo Lam
Stars: Chow Yun-Fat, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Roy Cheung
A mild-mannered man (Leung) is sent to prison, where he runs afoul of the Triad gangs and a sadistic guard (Chueng). A wise-cracking old-timer (Chow) decides to take the "new fish" under his wing even though he has problems of his own.
On the surface, Prison on Fire is a fairly standard prison drama, something which has been done dozens of times both in the US and in Hong Kong. But it is saved from mediocrity by Ringo Lam's tight direction and the performance of Chow Yun-Fat. Hamming it up during the first part of the film, he quickly turns serious at the situation warrants. It's a great job that wonderfully shows Chow's range as an actor. Roy Cheung also puts in some of his best work to date as the prison guard, and Tony Leung -- while doing nothing spectacular -- holds his own, and demonstrates some of the talent that would make the chemistry between himself and Chow in Hard-Boiled work so well.
Though the film (most of which takes place in one large cell) does look unbelievably cheap at times, the stark and bleak look actually adds to the film in the long run. It helps to create a constant tension that even the large riot scenes or comic relief can't break up. The last thirty minutes of the film -- while going strictly by the book -- are great, as the various parties' fights with each other begin to come together with disastrous results.
Those that are turned off by violence may want to avoid Prison on Fire. Though there are no guns or large weapons in the movie, the violent fights (which feature such things as Chow Yun-Fat biting off someone's ear) may turn away more squeamish viewers. Otherwise, Prison on Fire is recommended. It's definitely a good movie to check out if you want to see Chow Yun-Fat doing something other than blasting away people with two guns.
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