Full Contact Review
Full Contact is a solid addition to the ‘heroic bloodshed’, or ‘bullet ballet’, genre, and despite being considered the peak of director Ringo Lam’s career along with crime thriller City on Fire, is almost always over-shadowed by John Woo’s films; not least helped by Hard Boiled being released the same year. This is Hong Kong Legends’ second release in 2004 starring Chow Yun-Fat (the first being action-comedy Tiger on the Beat back in January) and reminds us just why he’s considered such an icon in HK action cinema.
After starring in the unusually subtle and thoughtful Wild Search (at least, by Ringo Lam’s standards), Chow Yun-Fat returns to work with the director, playing action hero Gou Fei (HKL continue their practice of transliterating the Cantonese names rather than using the English versions). As seems to be standard for films of this genre, Full Contact starts by introducing viewers to the various characters and their friendships. First there are the ‘villains’ of the story: Judge (okay so maybe not all the names then…) played by Simon Yam, and the aptly named Psycho (Frankie Chin). We see them undertake a rather messy robbery and then the opening credits hit. We are then introduced to two of the good guys: Chow Yun-Fat at his most macho as Gou Fei, and his friend Chung (Chris Lee, action director of Twin Dragons). After making sure that the club’s toilet is used as it was intended to be, Gou Fei then gets a call from a loan shark, demanding money in return for the release of his brother, Sam Sei.
Sam Sei, Gou Fei’s scruffy, naïve brother (played convincingly by Anthony Wong in yet another unusual role) has his head in a car, with the window raised up to his neck, as Gou Fei enters the scene riding an impressive motorcycle. He doesn’t have any money to pay the loan shark with (hardly surprising after buying that bike) so instead he tries to convince the boss to let him pay later. Unconvinced, the loan shark goes up to Sam Sei, who is unable to move, and slaps him twice before ordering his men to cut off Sam’s hand. Gou Fei has had enough and dispatches the first lot of the gang with a series of right and left hands. As two others come towards him, this time armed, Gou Fei gets out his butterfly knife (thankfully not cut by the BBFC or we’d have a rather confusing fight scene) and quickly gets rid of them before leaving with his brother.
The group of friends, joined by Gou Fei’s girlfriend, have a crisis meeting to figure out what to do. After toying around with the idea of robbery, the group eventually decide to flee, and meet up with Judge, who Sam Sei is a friend of, and who has promised work for them if they ever need it. Sure enough, the two groups meet up, and predictably there is tension between them, particularly between Chung and Psycho, and Gou Fei and Judge. Their first assignment is to help Judge and his men steal several million dollars worth of arms. However, what Gou Fei doesn’t know, is that Judge is being paid to kill him, and plans to do so shortly after carrying out the theft. However, it does not go to plan for Judge, as Gou Fei puts up a fight. Outnumbered and outgunned, he is forced into a house that is then set alight by Judge, and Gou Fei left to die. Somehow he manages to survive, but the family living in the house are not as fortunate. All of the family are killed except for the daughter, who is left physically scarred for life after Gou Fei manages to drag her out of the fire.
Predictably, the rest of the plot follows Gou Fei as he prepares to take revenge on those who betrayed him, and capture the money Judge made from the arms deal in order to pay for plastic surgery for the unfortunate girl (much like Chow Yun-Fat’s character in The Killer did for a singer).
Chow Yun-Fat tries his best to put on a memorable performance, but he doesn’t have much to work with as Gou Fei is such a one-dimensional character. Unlike Ah Jong in The Killer, or even Tequila in Hard Boiled, Gou Fei is a pretty boring anti-hero, soullessly dispatching the villains with ease. It seems that Ringo Lam wanted the character to look stylish, which is a shame as Chow Yun-Fat shines in roles where he adds a sense of vulnerability, or innocence, rather than be purely macho.
Simon Yam is given a much more interesting character, and entertainingly camps it up as the gay antagonist Judge, drawing guns out of his sleeves like a magician with doves, and flirting with Gou Fei even when they’re locked in an intense shootout. Anthony Wong is also good as Sam Sei, but his brief transformation into a merciless accomplice to Judge is wholly unconvincing; a fault of the writers rather than with his acting. Also worth noting is Frankie Chin’s amusing, over-the-top performance as Psycho, wielding some of the largest guns you’re ever likely to see.
Possibly the aspect of the film that has generated the most acclaim is the “bullet-cam” effect during the club shootout. No doubt an amazing achievement at the time, the camera follows the bullets as Gou Fei and Judge try to outwit each other. It does go on a little too long though, and the effect starts to become a little too much like a gimmick before the scene is over. Nevertheless, it is modern, very original, and went on to be an inspiration for many things, such as the music video Freak on a Leash, directed by Todd McFarlane, which follows the path of an unstoppable bullet, and the animation for the sniper rifle weapon in videogames Max Payne I and II.
Full Contact is entertaining, and the high levels of violence are a nice alternative to some of the overly conservative action films coming out of Hollywood, but there’s a reason it hasn’t been as acclaimed as John Woo’s films. The plot is more formulaic, the characters less interesting, and the action not quite as stylish or as well composed. Of course it is still a virtually essential purchase for fans of HK cinema, but don’t expect too much from it.
The transfer is at the standard that we’ve come to expect from HKL. There’s practically no print damage, and the picture is generally nice and crisp. The contrast levels are fairly high, and the colours are vibrant without being too saturated.
The picture is sometimes quite soft, and there are times when there is a fair amount of noise, but other than that there are no real problems with the transfer.
As per usual, we are given the option between a Cantonese Dolby 5.1 soundtrack, and a dubbed English 5.1 soundtrack. The dialogue is at just the right volume in the Cantonese track, but at times a bit quiet in the dubbed track. Again there’s nothing really to complain about, except that bass levels are quite low, and as a result the gunfire is too treble-based and lacks punch, but the levels are fine for ambient noise.
There is the choice between English subtitles, and English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing. They’re easy to read, the grammar is faultless, and I couldn’t spot any typos, so definitely nothing wrong as far as subtitles go.
There’s also the option of having an audio commentary by HKL regular Bey Logan, who once again has a biography in the audio options menu.
The commentary by Bey Logan is one of his best so far, only partially because he is joined by “Fist of the North Star” Gary Daniels (who doesn’t manage to get a word in until past 3 minutes) . Bey seems more confident than ever, and regularly cracks out jokes, which for the most part are funny for all the wrong reasons. At times it’s really quite worrying how much Bey knows, as he talks about topics from the location of Frankie Chin’s gym, to Jackie Chan adverts, the Caesar karaoke club, and all sorts of other things. Gary Daniels doesn’t say too much, and other than confusing Anthony Wong with Simon Yam several times, his contribution is minimal.
The first of the special features is Ballistic Kiss: A Behind the Scenes Expose of Hong Kong Gunplay Techniques (20’57”). Anyone even remotely interested in action films of any sort will be interested to learn how some of the trickiest action scenes are choreographed and carried out. Aided by clips of action scenes from The Killer, Tiger on the Beat, Bullet in the Head and A Better Tomorrow 2 (a hint that it’s on the way perhaps?), people like Fok Kam-Tong, Victy, and ‘Monkey’, guide us through an example action scene. They explain about props, squibs, safety measures, and even shoot themselves in the head just so you can learn how they do it. Now there’s dedication.
Next up is the first of two interviews, Malice Afterthought: An Interview with Prolific Action Star Simon Yam (12’29”). Simon Yam is in the same outfit as he was for the interview in the extras on the Bullet in the Head DVD; Hong Kong Legends can’t have wanted to pay for hotel expenses… nevertheless, he talks passionately about the film, praises the other actors, and talks in detail about his experience of working with director Ringo Lam. His English again restricts him slightly, but he gets his points across, and overall it’s an informative and enjoyable interview.
The second interview is titled Muscle Heat: An Interview with Actor / Bodybuilder Frankie Chin (15’06”), who fortunately looks completely different from his character in the film. He speaks great English, and talks primarily about the actual filming process, which is a nice contrast to Simon Yam describing the various people involved. Possibly the most interesting anecdote to come up in this interview is that Chow Yun-Fat actually got burnt during the explosion when he was trapped in the house, and continued to act out the scene despite the pain. Sounds like Chow Yun-Fat is quite unlucky with pyrotechnics, as it sounds similar to what happened in the finale of the legendary hospital shootout in Hard Boiled, when John Woo sped up the explosions without telling Chow, who was at that point literally running for his life.
There are also two trailers: the UK Promotional Trailer (1’55”), and the Original Theatrical Trailer (4’50”), as well as trailers for upcoming Hong Kong Legends and Premier Asia releases, listed under ”Further Attractions”.
Some people love Full Contact, others merely like it, but everyone will find something in this film that they like. Whether it deserves to be held amongst films like A Better Tomorrow or The Killer as one of the best of the genre is arguable, but what can’t be denied, is that it’s an enjoyable action movie. The extras are very pleasing for a single disc release, as is the AV treatment, and so, as a result, this is one DVD worth picking up.