Plot: What’s it about?
Ko Chow (Chow Yun Fat) is an undercover police agent who must take on a most dangerous assignment, one which involves a most notorious crime syndicate. Chow is a skilled agent to be sure, but his mind is also on a former lover that he hopes to win back, as well as other normal kind of issues. Another agent was assigned to the case, but he was shot down in a lethal conflict and now Chow has been called in to replace that officer. His task is to listen to all the conversations and observe all he can, in order to turn over his collected data to the police. The agents will then use that information to catch the criminals in the act and in the process, learn of previous crimes to charge the men with. As he begins to mesh with his new criminal cohorts, Chow picks up on a lot of stuff, as well as hitting it off with one of the crooks. He gets very close with one of the thieves and truly earns the bond of trust, which comes into play later on. When the police raid the gang’s heist and it is obvious someone tipped them off, the surviving crooks gather in a predetermined warehouse to regroup. The men begin to point fingers and guns at each other, not knowing that a police agent is present. But will that information remain unknown long enough for Chow to survive, or will the truth be uncovered and he’s forced to suffer the consequences?
I always shudder when Dimension (owned by Disney) releases an Asian action film, as they never fail to butcher it beyond all reason. After all substandard treatment of some of Jackie Chan & Jet Li’s finest films, now Dimension takes aim on Chow Yun Fat. The usual Dimension treatment was bestowed upon City on Fire, which is a complete and utter shame. Although this is regarded as a crime/action blockbuster, it is released here with no extras and in addition to that, there is no option for the original Cantonese soundtrack. I think with such a flexible format as DVD, multiple language tracks should be a given, but once again, we’re stuck with only an English dubbed track. This disc has some positives traits, but on the whole, this is another supreme disappointment from Dimension. This all sucks because City on Fire is a great movie and the experience is lessened here, which is a travesty of justice. Ringo Lam’s direction is superb and Chow Yun Fat leads a great cast, while the action is intense and very well crafted. I recommend this release for the movie and terrific visual transfer, but I still think it is a rental only, due to the lack of a Cantonese soundtrack.
In the action genre, it is tough to find a consistent director, as most deliver a few good ones and many other subpar efforts. But I feel that Ringo Lam is one of the better genre directors, as he has made some elite films, as well as many terrific ones. With City on Fire, Lam delivered one of his best movies and proves his skills beyond all doubt, thanks to well developed drama and some knockout action sequences. It helps to have such a gifted cast of course, but Lam’s direction steers the performances and also keeps the action in fine form. Although Ringo Lam has had some false steps in his career, I think he is a very consistent director and one of the better genre workers. Other films directed by Lam include Twin Dragons, Full Alert, Prison on Fire, Maximum Risk, Full Contact, and Replicant. The cast includes Chow Yun Fat (Hard Boiled, The Seventh Curse), Danny Lee (The Untold Story, The Killer), Elvis Tsui (Deadful Melody, Sex and Zen), and Carrie Ng (Naked Killer, Remains of a Woman).
Video: How does it look?
City on Fire is presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. This is where the disc deserves some praise, as this the best home video edition I’ve seen, hands down. The print looks rough at times, but is cleaner that prior versions and as such, fans should be pleased. The contrast has also been tweaked and improved, so shadow depth is much more accurate and black levels are more refined, more welcome touches. The colors seem richer and less faded also, though still not as sharp and vivid as most American releases. This visual effort still has some problems, but given the material involved, this is great work all around.
Audio: How does it sound?
As I mentioned above, Dimension has opted to include only an English dubbed track, which is a real let down. I think English dubs are a good option to have on these kind of releases, but only as an option, not as the sole soundtrack. The lack of a Cantonese choice is a slap in the face to fans, as the voice actors are low rent and much of the emotion is lost in the process. As far as English dubs go, this one is bad in terms of voice work, but good on a technical level. The track is coded in Dolby Digital 5.1 and offers a wide soundscope, with some good surround presence. If the folks at Dimension read this, please issue the original language soundtracks in the future along with English tracks, as these movies should be heard as intended. This disc also includes English subtitles, should you need to enable those.
Supplements: What are the extras?
This disc contains no bonus materials.