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高度戒備 (1997)
Full Alert

Reviewed by: Chungking_Cash
Date: 02/27/2010

Audiences won't yearn for the dark hue and coarse nature of 1980's crime cinema during Ringo Lam's "Full Alert" as the controversial director doesn't so much lift elements from the days of yore (before 1991's "The Silence of the Lambs" turned the genre into a honey glazed ham bakeoff) as he duplicates them with an uncanny likeness rarely seen in the East or West today.

If you didn't know any better you'd swear you were experiencing something produced a decade earlier; the highest compliment a post handover Hong Kong film could ever receive.

In addition to the film's nihilistic tone, which includes some truly visceral exchanges, present and accounted for are: the 30-something hothead inspector (Lau Ching-wan) with an unsatisfactory home life; a nuanced sociopath (Francis Ng in a fine performance); and a largely unelaborated on supporting cast that includes Amanda Lee, Chin Kar-lok, Taiwanese actor Jack Kao, and Emily Kwan.

Following nearly a decade of mixed reactions to his work -- including a 1995 gig in Hollywood directing Jean-Claude Van Damme in "Maximum Risk" -- "Full Alert" was seen by many as a welcomed return to form for filmmaker Ringo Lam.

Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: MrBooth
Date: 01/09/2006
Summary: 9/10 - dark, depressing, but ever so good

Ringo Lam has always been a maverick director in Hong Kong, seemingly operating on the outskirts of the industry and to his own rules and vision - his style and attitude have always been distinctive, bringing a dark and gritty feel to most of his films. Like John Woo and Tsui Hark, Lam "jumped ship" before 1997 and ended up directing Jean Claude Van-Damme in Hollywood. More than most, Ringo's individual style seemed unsuited to the Hollywood movie factory, where a director is just a cog in the machine.

After one Van-Damme film which didn't exactly set the world on fire, Lam returned to Hong Kong in 1997 and made FULL ALERT, a dark crime thriller that seemed like a triumphant return to his homeland. Directing the two finest character actors of the day, Lau Ching-Wan and Francis Ng, Lam created an intense, violent and pessimistic film about thieves from the mainland and a hard-boiled cop out to stop them. Lam makes the most of his actors, giving them complex characters full of brooding intensity and a rawness that their tough lifestyles have instilled in them.

True to form, the action in the film is violent, brutal and realistic - though there aren't too many scenes (it might have been nice to have a few more, as the film does get a bit slow at times). The film is unrelentingly pessimistic, even depressing - a style that doesn't tend to go down to well with Hong Kong audiences.

FULL ALERT seemed like the work of a man with a renewed sense of passion, perhaps feeling that he had something to prove after being treated as a low-grade entity in Hollywood. It showed that Lam still had the confidence in his vision and abilities to make a film purely on his own terms. The production values are high, and the direction assured, and the story and the script of the highest calibre. It should have been the start of something great, with Lam taking his seat as Hong Kong's premiere director of crime movies - but for some reason he hasn't followed up on this work. Perhaps the box office performance was not enough? Other than VICTIM (1999), Lam has produced little else in the same league, leaving the field open for Johnnie To to claim the title and most of the box office. Lam has ended up back in Hollywood for another two Van-Damme films, with increasingly poor reviews and box office results... but sadly, even a poor Van-Damme film probably takes 10 times as much money as a good Lau Ching-Wan film (don't know how much of it Lam himself will see). It's sad for the fans, but hopefully he's enjoying himself.

I'm sure that if he were ever to want to return to HK to make some actually good movies again, he'd be more than welcome :)

Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: ewaffle
Date: 10/09/2005
Summary: The memory trap

“Full Alert” is an exceptionally well made crime drama with a clean plot, superb performances by a number of excellent actors, tight editing and very dark emotional content. The story is straightforward. Pao, a senior officer of the Special Crime Bureau, and his team investigate the grisly murder of an architect. The trail leads to Mak Kwan who quickly confesses to manslaughter but refuses to talk about the ingredients for explosives or the detailed map of a vault the police find. The police keep close surveillance on Mak’s girlfriend which eventually reveals that the original murder was just the beginning of a plan to steal two billion HK dollars from the super-secure vault of the Jockey Club. Along the way there is an exciting car chase that ends in a shootout, a brutal murder with a shovel, a kidnapping, some explosions and a lot of suspense.

The first several scenes lead the audience to believe that this will be cops and robbers. The first sounds we hear are a police radio under the credits. We then see Pao’s squad find the body and track down the killer. At this point Lam unleashes several images and markers that characterize cop dramas. There is a line-up with the suspect and others who might resemble him; the questioning is seen (by us and by senior officers) through a one-way mirror. The suspect is bathed in harsh while light while his interrogators speak from deep shadow. When Pao leaves the room one of the tough and seeming unstable officers threatens to beat up Mak.

But we soon find out that there is much more to “Full Alert” than we might think based on the first 20 minutes. Both protagonists are plagued by memories of men they have killed. The memories are depicted by flashbacks bathed in an odd crimson light—Officer Pao killed an armed assailant, but still is haunted by his recollection of the thug choking to death on his own blood after Pao has shot him in the throat. Mak, who talks about how horrible it is to kill someone and to watch and listen to their death agony, cannot forget the last seconds of the architect. Toward the end of the movie both have additional hideous memories and ultimately one will be haunted by the death of the other.

Ringo Lam first shows how Pao and Mak are connected by having the initial flashbacks follow each other. He later has a more elaborate but unambiguous parallelism. The after the car chase, the cops mourn the death of one of their comrades; immediately after we are shown the burial of the thief who was killed at the same time. The police agony is public and intense while the villains secretly bury their fallen associate in waste ground but with some of the ceremonies of a funeral.

The most striking identification between the two is in their relationships with their women. At first Pao is shown as having the typical tough cop family life—he misses small but important events in his son’s life because he is so consumed with this case and you get the impression that this is far from the first time it has happened. But there is real love between Pao and his wife and child, a bond that strengthens as he becomes more absorbed in the case. His family is important to Pao—he finds out late in the movie just how important—and the audience wants his marriage to work. His wife, wonderfully underplayed by Monica Chan, is intelligent, loyal, loving and completely devoted to Pao and their son. She is hard not to like.

The story of Mak and Lee, portrayed by Emily Kwan, is one of intense and passionate commitment—they would not only kill for each other, neither is willing to live if the other dies. They are the perfect gangster couple. Lee, as sleek as a well groomed cat, knows her way around the HK underworld, is able to escape from police ambushes and can shoot it out with them when necessary.

There are some striking shots in “Full Alert” to the everlasting credit of Ringo Lam and his cinematographer Ardy Lam Kwok-Wah. One particularly memorable one is during the ultimate showdown between Pao, Mok and Lee. At one point Pao has viciously beaten Mok—pounded his head against a car hood, kicked him, stomped him, run him into cement walls, essentially brutalized him. The next shot is of Pao grasping Lee and almost crushing him—it is shot from a low angle so that Pao looks huge, like a biblical Samson or Goliath, and easily able to finish off Mok with his bare hands. Pao, the tough cop stretched too far, has become a monster, toying with his captive until he decides to kill him.

The theme of memories becoming real and dominating one’s life is also well served by some extraordinarily well lit and framed shots including one that is repeated during the last scene of the film—the first time, in the film’s “real life” it is arresting but the second time, in the context of an ineradicable waking nightmare, is astonishing.

Highly recommended.

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: balstino
Date: 06/24/2004
Summary: Alright, but misses the mark...

Could of been superb but just didn't hit the mark. Ringo was obviously having an off day, this is just like all the other crap out there but even more frustrating because you can see that it COULD OF BEEN GOOD. Where was that true burning intensity I was after? Oh well, I'll just sit down and watch City of Fire again I guess!!!

Reviewed by: JUlibas
Date: 10/19/2003
Summary: Hardcore Police Drama

Ringo Lam's Full Alert is an old school police drama that feature's hard hitting action and deep dialogue. Francis Ng is great as the fugitive safe cracker/ explosives expert and ditto for Lau Ching-Wan who's his old reliable self as the police officer who'll stop at nothing to see him behind bars. Ringo Lam rebounded very well after his heavily reshot hollywood debut Maximum Risk. This movie showcases his talents as a well stylized film-maker. All of his trademarks are present (realistic gunfights, brutal bone crunching fisticuffs and fluid camera work and direction). In other words, Full Alert is a damn good movie. Highly recommended. Bo "Emily" Kwan (Dr. Lamb, Untold Story) co-stars.


Reviewed by: magic-8
Date: 04/25/2003
Summary: Good Police Potboiler

There are only a handful of directors that can depict reality with all its grittiness on screen. Ringo Lam jumps immediately to mind. Lam has the ability to get into the shadows and the characters that inhabit the dark spaces. "Full Alert" is another film in Lam's repertory that displays the seamy side of life. Francis Ng Chun-Yu plays the mastermind behind a planned robbery, while Lau Ching-Wan is the cop out to spoil Ng's attempt.

"Full Alert" starts off with the investigation of a homicide that leads the police to Francis Ng's heist plans of the Hong Kong Jockey Club. The game and the players are set up from the onset. The rest of the movie addresses the seesaw attack and response of the good guys vs. the bad guys. This build up of tension by Lau and Ng is what keeps this potboiler going.

The movie is more a considered drama than an all out action flick. Lam tries to give the characters fullness by having them show their vulnerable side along with their steely exterior. Some of this isn't pretty and showy, but brutal and callous, and at times poignant, in that both cops and robbers harbor feelings of remorse and regret.

Ringo Lam does an excellent job of eliciting full-bodied performances from every cast member, including the supporting roles, from Chin Kar Lok to Jack Kao. There is no other director in Hong Kong that can touch Lam's dark side. He just seems to have his hand on the pulse of what makes people desire living on the edge.

Reviewed by: Sydneyguy
Date: 09/19/2000
Summary: Are you people sure?

Another group of people which i disagree with!! Maybe it's just me and Lau Ching Wan movies!! I thought this was a average movie at best!!
I am watching it, and then it ends. I think, thats it?

All the acting is good in this but i couldn't help but find i have seen this before. The "R" rating this had on the movie cover should be changed to "M".

Standard stuff at best


Reviewed by: hellboy
Date: 08/31/2000
Summary: Let's all just pretend like Maximum Risk never happened.

This movie didn't really get a hold of me until the last half. The determined cop who will stop at nothing vs. the dangerous psychopath criminal has been played out, but Lam adds a certain amount of ambiguity to the mix that makes you question who the bad guy really is. Lau Ching Wan's character is played with a subdued animosity that pours out during the final reel. Ringo Lam's direction is excellent. Francis Ng comes across as being a desperate fugitive, not just another hammy bad guy (Young and Dangerous). The emotionally powerful ending is haunting. 8.5/10

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: resdog781
Date: 07/31/2000
Summary: Ringo Lam's best, IMHO

This was a SLICK cops-n-robbers, cat-n-mouse caper movie. Lau Ching-Wan is great as the standard cop with personal family problems up the ying-yang, but does his best to carry on the investigation to the best of his ability. The cop/robber relationship reminded me of Pacino/DeNiro in "Heat", but DeNiro was never this crazy. The one who truly stole the show was Francis Ng. I don't say this about many HK actors (except Anthony Wong in like 90% of his roles), but his performance in this movie CREEPED ME OUT. He definitely pulled off the "psychopathic criminal mastermind" to a T as he planned his proverbial last job. Some slick suspense scenes during the heist (underwater too!), realistically violent (I love John Woo, but...), and the end I thought was truly a heartbreaker. Ringo Lam's best film ever.

Reviewed by: grimes
Date: 04/08/2000

There are so many Hong Kong actors and directors doing Hollywood projects these days. After I watched this film, I thought
for sure that Ringo Lam was one of them. However, as far as I can tell from looking around on the web, he's not. This
basically sums up review of the film, 'very Hollywood'.

This film has little of the over-the top craziness I've come to know and love in the Hong Kong action subgenre. Fortunately, it
does have a saving grace, which is that the two main characters of the film, Lau Ching-Wan and Francis Ng, are a little more
interesting than your usual cop and robber.

In the average Hollywood action film (and most Hong Kong films for that matter), both the hero and villain kill their
respective enemies with aplomb, whether with knives, guns, or their bare hands. This is particularly odd for a police officer,
since I am under the impression that in real life most police officers rarely draw their guns, much less fire them or kill
anybody. In Full Alert, this generally holds true. From what the film shows us, it appears that Lau Ching-Wan has only
killed one person in his police career, and even though that person was trying to kill him, he is obviously tormented by it.
For most normal people, it is not easy to injure, much less kill, another person, even in self-defense. This also seems to hold
true for Francis Ng's villain. He too is tormented by the violence he has inflicted on others and is not a ruthless killer. The
two characters are actually fundamentally similar despite the fact that they are working against each other.

This interesting characterization, combined with the skill of the two lead actors, is what keeps an otherwise average film
interesting. There are several entertaining action sequences, though nothing too spectacular, and some interesting scenes
of the family life of both the lead characters. Unfortunately, the film waits until too late to develop the most interesting
aspects of the characters, leaving the first half a bit dry.

I would give this film a lukewarm recommendation although it would probably be good fun for action junkies. It is not great
but it is not bad either, and I certainly wouldn't discourage anyone from seeing it, though this may be a case of damning
with faint praise.

Reviewed by: SUPERCOP
Date: 12/25/1999
Summary: Lam is back in top form.....

After having his American debut, the mediocre Maximum Risk, tampered with by the studio, director Ringo Lam returned to his native Hong Kong to film this dark, superbly written crime drama. Although a terrific car chase, which seems to cover half of Hong Kong, is prominent, action is almost beside the point. Instead, the viewer is treated to a screenplay that blends emotion and intelligence, accented by finely textured performances by two of the best character actors in the business (Lau Ching-wan and Francis Ng). Earning multiple nominations at the 1997 Hong Kong Film Awards, Full Alert certainly ranks as one of Lam's most accomplished efforts to date.

Rating: 9/10

Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: hkcinema
Date: 12/08/1999

High level officer Chris is assigned to the case when anarchitect's body was found. Chris discovers the murderer is former engineer Mak Kun and leads a team to arrest him. At Mak's home they discover weapons, explosives, and safe designs, which leads Chris to believe Mak is planning a major robbery. Mak refuses to talk about the plan. Meanwhile Mak's girlfriend Hung secretly contacts Mak's Taiwan gang mate Gentleman and prepare a rescue from prison......

[Reviewed by Next Magazine]