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Tony Ka Fai Leung
The whole city is burning up during the hottest summer on record. Tempers flare, irrational feelings erupt and the impossible becomes possible. And in every corner of the city, love explodes like fireworks.
An impressive triad gangster and cops film from Hong Kong
Hong Kong director/producer David Lam Tak Luk's directorial efforts include films like POWERFUL FOUR (1992) and HONG KONG GIGOLO (1990). THE FIRST SHOT (1993) was the first film I saw from him and at least now I can wait much from his other films, too. THE FIRST SHOT is a no-nonsense depiction of anti-corruption squad that was created inside the Hong Kong police to fight the triad corruption and betrayal inside the force and in society in general. The film is set in the 1970's and stars the great Shaw brothers veteran actor Ti Lung as the "untouchable" cop who leads the new unit to fight the powerful triad boss played by the calm and talented actor Waise Lee who has also memorable roles in films like Johnnie To's and Andrew Kam's THE BIG HEAT (1988) and John Woo's A BETTER TOMORROW (1987) and A BULLET IN THE HEAD (1990). Other names in the impressive cast include Maggie Cheung, Simon Yam, Andy Hui and Lau Sek Ming.
The film is a powerful depiction of corruption and criminal activity in the society and how many people are easy to corrupt with money and bribes. It is said at one point in the film that 95% of the Hong Kong citizens are involved with the dirty money and thus with the gangsters in some way and that is really an ugly and alarming number. The film is close to Brian De Palma's THE UNTOUCHABLES (1987) in which Kevin Costner played the same part as Ti Lung does in THE FIRST SHOT.
THE FIRST SHOT is written by Chan Kiu Ying (Ronnie Yu's POSTMAN STRIKES BACK, 1982), So Man Sing (Jamie Luk's outrageous ROBOTRIX (1991) and Tsui Hark's impressive THE BLADE (1995) and Wong Ho Wa who also did the screenplay for Billy Tang's depressing RED TO KILL in 1994. So these three scriptwriters are pretty talented and together they've managed to create an interesting and noteworthy film once again.
There is little action and gun play but it is pretty restrained and never used as in the "heroic bloodshed" movies. It is all pretty realistic and used only when it was needed. The film is also pretty violent at times (and rated CAT III) and the hammering at the end is the kind of hyper violence that hurts the viewer almost as much as the character and thus the violence is never glamourized in the film. It is depicted in a very realistic way and so it has a much deeper meaning than just exploitation or "entertainment." Also Waise Lee's triad boss has a VERY dangerous and lethal weapon in his arm/hands and I definitely won't tell more about that surprise.
The only major negative point in the film is its attitude towards homosexuals. There's a jaw dropping scene at a gay bar where the dialogue is so priceless I wasn't sure did I even read right! I wonder what did the writers have against homo sexuals because their disgust towards them is so obvious and pretty tasteless in the film. And the gay they take to police station is totally unnecessary character and very annoying. This is a bad point in an otherwise great and serious film.
The music is by Lowell Lo who has composed also films like Clarence Fok's NAKED KILLER (1992), John Woo's THE KILLER (1989), Ringo Lam's PRISON ON FIRE (1987) and SCHOOL ON FIRE (1988) among many others, and his soundtrack in THE FIRST SHOT is again nice and atmospheric but not quite as masterful as in some of his other works, SCHOOL ON FIRE for instance. The cinematography is occasionally very wild and includes claustrophobic and restless angles especially in the violent and action scenes to add to the feel of terror and threat. The film is very professional and convincing in many levels and it would be even more noteworthy without those "gay commentary bits" in the screenplay.
THE FIRST SHOT is among the most interesting films of its genre and subject matter and I give it 8/10. Subsequent viewings will likely improve the film as usually with Hong Kong films.
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