Prison on Fire (1987)
Directed by: Ringo Lam
Starring: Roy Cheung, Yun-Fat Chow, Ka-Kui Ho, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Kwong Leung Wong
Tagline: "A classic prison story"
I have seen this movie heaps of times on SBS TV so I won't go into the plot that much. The storyline is fairly familiar to most moviegoers about a new inmate Long Ka-Yia (Tony Leung Ka-Fai) who is taken under the wing of an older inmate, Mad Dog (Yun-Fat Chow), so he won't get beaten up as much (sort of like The Shawshank Redemption (1994)).
What makes this movie special are the characters and the performances from Yun-Fat Chow and especially the prison warden "Scarface" (Roy Cheung) who really evils it up.
My favourite parts in this movie are when the two first talk to each other in the hospital toilet and the punishment they are given by the warden for trying to show him up (cleaning out the septic tank) - seeing Yun-Fat Chow with smokes up his nose is a crack-up.
This movie was the first in a series of movies and inspired other movies such as Chinese Midnight Express 2. Although Yun-Fat Chow also appears in the sequel, I like this movie more as everything was still fresh and the actors get the best out of their roles. They pretty much explore everything that can happen in a prison in this movie, so it is hard to top in a sequel unless, I don't know, maybe they decide to escape? What a coincidence! That is the exact plot for Prison on Fire 2!
Although the prison setting seems limited for what they can do in the movie as I said before, this movie is really about the characters and how they make it through various situations and come out alive at the other side. No matter how many times I watch this movie, I always enjoy watching it again due to the interesting characters. Getting a copy of this movie on DVD may be difficult, so I recommend picking it up on VCD or VHS if you can.
If you know anything about the films from this era, you will know that there was a series of 'On Fire' that included City on Fire (a.k.a Reservoir Dogs) and School on Fire. The movies aren't really related in terms of story, but they share the same director and some of the actors and are a perfect snapshot of the type of films that came out Hong Kong in the late 1980's.
If you can find a copy of this movie, it comes highly recommended, whether you are a fan of Yan-Fat Chow's earlier work or like watching gritty dramatic movies.