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Original Title:
Go do gaai bei

Hong Kong 1997

Crime, Action, Drama

Ringo Lam

Lau Ching Wan
Francis Ng
Amanda Lee
Jack Kao
Lee Siu-Kei
Chin Kar Lok
Monica Chan
Cho Wing Lim
Andrew Kam
Emily Kwan
Yung Kam-Cheong
Marcus Fox

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Full Alert

Story: Cop Pao (Lau Ching Wan) and his team take in custody Mak Kwan (Francis Ng) for murder. Kwan soon confesses the murder on an architect, but one thing the police is even more interested in, is what he planned to do with all the chemicals they found at his home. Apparently he intended to build a bomb to use in a a big coup, since there was also a blueprint found among his things. Pao wants the names of everyone involved in the planned robbery and the place, as well as the date the theft is set for. However, Kwan isn't cooperative at all and eventually ends up in jail for murder.
Mak Kwan's taiwanese partners aren't too happy about how things developed, and they decide to get Kwan out of prison. They get a helping hand from Kwan's girlfriend Chung (Amanda Lee), who proves to be of good use. Nonetheless, Pao is quite aware of what they plan, and wants to make sure that he doesn't become the loser in this game. After a first failed rescue attempt, which leads to some dead bodies on both sides, the taiwanese can eventually help Kwan escape. Although Pao knows what Kwan will be doing next, Kwan is always one step ahead of him. When Kwan even involves Pao's family in his scheme, the cop sees red...

Review: Ringo Lam is a name that viewers of Hong Kong cinema should be familiar with for some years already. After his rather moderate work for Hollywood ("Maximum Risk") he returns to his home country and shots a film that clearly shows his true strengths as a director. Which lie in tensely and thrillingly captured pictures and well elaborated characters. As a matter of fact, the story is pretty simple, and provides us with standard cop-chases-criminal stuff. Especially the initial interrogation scenes create only little interest for the film. Everything seems too plain and unspectacular. Granted, it takes a while, but in the end the movie manages to make us impatiently wait for what might be happening next. This interest for the happenings on screen result from the characters, which Lam all draws in different shades of grey, and thus let's them stand as very human beings.

Fans of the genre will also be happy to hear, that "Full Alert" is somewhat gritty in mood. Yet, the world depicted is never so dark, that we couldn't sympathize with some of the characters. Even though I just talked about different shades of grey, it has to be stressed, that Pao is without a doubt a cop we can relate to. He has a wife and a son, as well as the certitude that what he does is just a job. As it is the case with almost any cop portrayed in a movie, he is also very tenacious concerning the actual case he is working on, but he is also aware that he could simply choose to quit his job at any time. One memorable scene of the film is to be found throughout the middle, when he tells his wife that he is actually thinking that it might be for the better if he just quit being a cop. It's character drawings like these that make it easy for an audience to cross the fingers for the hero of a movie.

Lau Ching Wan ("Lost in Time", "Running out of Time", "The Longest Nite") really isn't an actor that needs any sort of introduction. Together with Anthony Wong he is simply the best actor Hong Kong had in years, and he shows once more why he deserves this praise. His initial portrait of a cop is rather simple, but grows more complex and gets more edges as the film progresses, so that we have a genuine character at the end, who we eagerly watch chasing after Kwan. Luckily, the script also plays Lau into his hands, as it provides him with enough material to work with, so that he can undergo certain changes, which make his great acting achievement stand out even more.
Unfortunately, the same can't be said about Mak Kwan. He remains neglected by the script, but Francis Ng ("Exiled", "On the Edge") can make up for it with his acting experience, and bestows something charismatic and enigmatic upon his role. In fact, we really wish for him to succeed concerning his planned robbery, it's just that Kwan does some things that make him lose our sympathies every now and then.

In "Full Alert" there are also some action scenes that are nice to look at. There aren't many of them, but to name an example, the car chasing sequence with a resulting shoot-out in the middle of the movie is nicely done and quite thrilling. Moreover, Ringo Lam worked some scenes into his movie that are quite brutal and intense. Scenes that can stick with you for a while. Especially well done is the showdown when Pao and Kwan finally face each other. Kwan's girlfriend Chung is also involved, and things get really hectic when there aren't only fists used during the finale anmore, but when a gun gets into play, too. We know that not everyone will survive this clash, and that's exactly what makes this showdown so engaging and, along with the great directing, an extraordinarily thrilling cinematic experience. Of course, Ringo Lam also gives the ending a rather dark connotation, which provides the film with that special something, that we learned to love from Hong Kong movies.

It's surprising, that director Ringo Lam made use of so many clichés in his story. Fortunately, his plot is more focused on the character explorative aspect, and that's where it actually manages to score. Therefore, we can easily forgive the simple cop-story. It takes a while until we actually feel engaged by the film, to be exactly almost until the last third, but it's really worth the wait!
Two great leading actors and a nice soundtrack by Peter Kam make "Full Alert" a cop movie of the likes that earned Hong Kong cinema many fans throughout the world. Lam is in top form and excites with well done pictures and thrilling scenes. The cinematography and the atmosphere are just right. For HK-Fans this is simply a "go - get it"!

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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