• Burning Paradise (Discotek Media) DVD Review

    Released by: Discotek Media
    Released on: June 29th, 2010.
    Director: Ringo Lam
    Cast: John Ching, Willie Chi, Chun Lam, Carman Lee, Kam-Kong Wong, Sheng Yang
    Year: 1993
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    Burning Paradise – Movie Review:

    A criminally underrated Fong Sai-yuk film from action director and megalomaniac extraordinaire Ringo Lam (may he rest in peace), 1993’s Burning Paradise had been long overdue for a proper DVD release in North America until the kind folks at Discotek/Eastern Star offered up a respectable presentation of the film in 2010. For its small but loyal fan base, this is very much a good thing, and a release that should, if the stars align, turn more cult film junkies on to this minor masterpiece of grim martial arts insanity.

    When the picture begins, in the Ching Dynasty, the Chinese government has decided to thwart the Shaolin monks by destroying their temple and enslaving and/or killing off as many disciples of Shaolin as possible. Martial artist Fong Sai-yuk (Willie Chi Tian-sheng) and his ‘uncle,’ a monk named Hung Hei-kwun (Yang Sheng), have avoided capture when we meet them. However, that soon changes when they, along with an innocent if remarkable foxy former prostitute named Tou-Tou (Carmen Lee), are captured by the nefarious General Crimson (John Ching Tung). They are subsequently imprisoned in his Red Lotus Temple, run by a psychopathic painter named Elder Kung (Wong Kam-kjong). Hung-Hei-kwun is murdered and Tou-Tou is turned into Kung’s concubine while Fong Sai-yuk is left to his own devices to figure out how to get out of this remarkably crappy situation.

    His journey will take him to a pit of corpses, through countless deadly traps and eventually team him up with his former nemesis, but not before testing both his martial ability and his Buddhist faith.

    Borrowing a bit from the Shaw Brothers’ House Of Traps, Lam’s Burning Paradise is pretty great stuff. Loaded with some surprisingly gory violence (a horse has its head cut off, a body is cut in two, there’s plenty of arterial spray scattered throughout the film and more icky corpses than you can shake a stick at), the picture is a deftly entertaining blend of wushu style sword play and kung-fu and Temple Of Doom style adventure with a few horrific tinges thrown in to keep things interesting. While it’s certainly a genre hodge-podge, Lam keeps things moving at a breakneck pace, throwing in enough kung-fu, action, comedy and, yes, creepy sexual twists, that if the film is all over the place, hey, it’s never dull, not even for a second.

    While not the most lavish of productions, the picture makes the most of its sets and locations, the primary one being the Red Lotus Temple itself. Filled with more traps than even Indiana Jones would be able to navigate, you never know when spears will shoot from walls, floors will open up over treacherous pits or Buddha himself will open fire. That’s half the fun right there, the unpredictability that the very premise itself lends the story. The action is solid and the acting all fine in its own right, if a bit corny at times, but it all plays second fiddle to a location both memorable and impressive. Lam made better movies before this (with no disrespect meant to the fun Van Damme movies he’d make after, and 1999’s The Victim is pretty impressive), but Burning Paradise holds fast as the last of his truly ‘great’ Hong Kong films and one of the stand outs in his impressive eighties and nineties filmography.

    Burning Paradise – DVD Review:

    Burning Paradise looks okay in this 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The film still has some moderate print damage and periodically shows some unusually chunky grain, but it’s certainly more than watchable and remains the best version available, more than a decade after this DVD release. The dark scenes, of which there are many, show better detail than the previous Dutch DVD release and color reproduction is, on a whole, a fair bit more vibrant and realistic looking. Keep in mind when you watch this that the picture has always had a somewhat gritty look going on and that it’s never looked amazing on home video and you won’t be disappointed. The transfer won’t melt your brain with added clarity or detail, but it looks decent.

    Watch the film in your choice of English or Cantonese audio, each track in Dolby Digital Stereo format. Neither track will floor you with its quality but they both sound fine, with the edge going to the Cantonese track simply because it suits the film better than the English track does. The optional English subtitles contain a typo or two but they’re minor. They do, however, ‘stack’ in that as the conversation flows they appear on top of one another and push the previous line underneath. It’s not really a problem at all, but it’s uncommon and it takes a little bit of getting used to.

    Aside from a trailer for the feature and trailers for a few other unrelated Discotek/Eastern Star DVD releases, the sole extra is an interview with the film’s producer, Tsui Hark, which clocks in at just under five minutes. Here Hark talks about working with Ringo Lam on the project, how he came on board as producer, how he feels about the movie in hindsight, and what it was like being involved in the film. The interview is conducted in English but has non-removable French subtitles.

    Burning Paradise – The Final Word:

    This DVD release of a Hong Kong action movie classic may not be able to compete with modern pictures in terms of gloss or sheen but it delivers plenty of balls out action, ass kicking set pieces, hot women, hiss-worthy villains, splattery gore and high-flying heroics. Burning Paradise is just a really enjoyable and fun time at the movies from start to finish, and if the presentation is a bit rough, so be it, the movie kicks enough ass that you can easily overlook that.