Although it does not have a cohesive narrative, ISLAND OF FIRE works as an entertaining series of vignettes--assuming one checks all logic at the door. Released under a variety of names, both dubbed into English and in its original Chinese, the latter version is infinitely preferable for
subtitling so bad it verges on the surreal ("Are you mad on the pig" "Here is!"), before the subtitles disappear entirely for the final scene.
A police official is shot and his assassin killed when the assassin's getaway car mysteriously blows up. The assassin's fingerprints prove him to be a man supposedly executed in prison some time earlier, so policeman Wang Wei (Tony Leung Kar-fai) goes undercover to check out the jail. There he
finds all manners of corruption, including sadistic guards betting on fights between prisoners. Running afoul of one of the most vicious guards, Wang is marked for death, but his cellmate is accidentally killed instead. In a rage, Wang attacks and kills the guard responsible, provoking a riot,
after which Wang is subdued, sentenced to die, and summarily executed.
Or not. Waking in another cell, Wang is informed by the Warden (Ko Chuen-hsiung) that he is now part of a secret government hit team that has been assigned to kill a druglord, after which they will be all given new identities. Wang and three other supposedly dead prisoners assassinate the druglord
at the airport, but at the last minute Wang realizes the getaway car is booby-trapped, and the four find themselves facing off against a veritable army. The other three prisoners are killed, while Wang escapes to confront the Warden and see him led off in handcuffs.
All of the above plot elements occur in the first and last minutes of the film. The bulk of the story drops the main plot entirely and instead wanders randomly from one to another of the prisoners fated to make up the hit squad. Sammo Hung plays the comic relief, a bumbler who is continually
trying to escape to spend time with his young son. Of course, in director Chu Yen-ping's version of prison, escape is as easy as slipping away from the road gang and hopping into a nearby police car with its keys left conveniently in the dash--twice. In addition to interpolating every prison
cliche in the book, Chu mixes in anomalies like a thoroughly gratuitous scene of a bra-less woman in a wet shirt, and a ticker-tape reception in the center of the jail when the prisoners' de facto leader, Kui, gets out of solitary. Kui is played by executive producer Jimmy Wang Yu, a former kung
fu superstar whose career had turned to mud once he reneged on his contract to Hong Kong's Shaw Brothers studio and moved to Taiwan. It was in deference to Wang (allegedly a high-ranking Triad and therefore very persuasive) that major stars Sammo Hung, Andy Lau, Tony Leung, and Jackie Chan
consented to appear in the film, with Chan billed as star despite his limited role. Chan has since made no secret of his loathing for the final product, reputedly trying to buy up all prints to prevent its ever being screened. His character, Lung, has the goofiest storyline, as he refuses to throw
a pool match, resulting in his girlfriend getting stabbed; the hospital refuses to operate without cash upfront, so he wins at cards, but gets accused of cheating and has to fight a crew of toughs, accidentally killing their leader, whose brother Iron Ball gets himself arrested to kill Chan in
prison; but the pair bond instead, and Iron Ball dies trying to save Lung. And that's just a subplot.
Grim, nonlinear, and unfocused as it is, ISLAND OF FIRE is actually one of the more restrained offerings from notoriously wacky auteur Chu Yen-ping (FANTASY MISSION FORCE, JACKIE CHAN'S CRIME FORCE), who has subsequently revisited (and reinvented) many of the same cliches in 1997's THE JAIL IN
BURNING ISLAND. (Violence, sexual situations, profanity.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1991
- Rating: NR
- Review: Although it does not have a cohesive narrative, ISLAND OF FIRE works as an entertaining series of vignettes--assuming one checks all logic at the door. Released under a variety of names, both dubbed into English and in its original Chinese, the latter vers… (more)