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Issue #141 HOME E-mail: mail@dighkmovies.com BACK ISSUES January 6th, 2003

Burning Paradise
(1994; Golden Harvest/DLO Film Production/Silver Medal Productions)

A Masterpiece
Highly Recommended
Very Good
Marginal Recommendation
Not Recommended
Definitely Not Recommended

Cantonese: Foh siu hung lin ji
Mandarin: Huo shao hong lian si
English: The Burning of Red Lotus Temple

The bleakest martial arts thriller of its era, Ringo Lam Ling-tung's BURNING PARADISE finds legendary Ching Dynasty heroes Fong Sai-yuk (DRUNKEN MASTER III's Willie Chi Tian-sheng) and Hung Hei-kwun (Yang Sheng) caught up in the Manchu government's quest to exterminate the students of Shaolin Temple (the premise of several martial arts films produced at Shaw Brothers). Following his capture at the hands of the Manchu general Crimson (John Ching Tung), Fong is incarcerated with his fellow pupils at Red Lotus Temple, a subterranean netherworld riddled with booby traps. Turning his back on Shaolin, Hung allies himself with the prison commander, Elder Kung (Wong Kam-kong), a brutal psychopath who likes to adorn his garish paintings with human blood and seeks new specimens for his collection of mummified women. However, the prisoners may have a surprise ally in the form of Boroke (YOUNG HERO OF SHAOLIN PART II's Maggie Lin Quan), Kung's right hand woman, whose love for one Shaolin fighter may be enough to change her allegiance.

Frequently dark, and tinged with horror movie imagery and macabre humor (the passage of time is shown via repeated cutaways to a pair of severed arms that gradually decay right down to the bone), BURNING PARADISE can be looked upon as the antithesis of producer Tsui Hark's quixotic ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA series. If anything, it plays more like a cross between Lam's nerve-wracking condemnation of the HK educational system, SCHOOL ON FIRE (1988), and his fierce, yet decorative gangster thriller, FULL CONTACT (1992). Particularly effective is the second act (highlighting the students' attempt to escape the dungeon), which unfolds tautly amidst the most cogent visuals of the director's career. The one stumbling block the film cannot overcome is its lack of a strong central performance, a key component of Lam's best work. When stacked up against a seasoned character actor like Wong Kam-kong, the young cast of newcomers (including Carman Lee Yeuk-tung as a feisty prostitute that Fong is determined to save from Kung's perverted clutches) make little impact when they are not darting around on the lavish, multi-tiered sets. Although a few bouncing rubber spear tips are evident, the action sequences (choreographed by Chris Lee Kin-sang) are energetic, inventive, and highly satisfying. A box office disaster, this forceful production's reputation should almost certainly improve with time and it already enjoys a cult following in the West.

Cover art courtesy Mo Asia.

Willie Chi. Image courtesy Mo Asia.

Carman Lee. Image courtesy Mo Asia.
Mo Asia #MOAD 04 (Netherlands label)

Dolby Digital 2.0

Cantonese and German Language Tracks (both post-synched)

Optional Subtitles In English and Dutch

8 Chapters Illustrated in the Menu With (Tiny) Clips

Letterboxed (1.66:1)

Coded for ALL Regions

PAL Format

104 Minutes

Contains brutal violence and horror

DVD menu courtesy Mo Asia.

Great Britain: 18
Hong Kong: II (Cut Version)*
Netherlands: 16
Ontario: R (Violence)*
Singapore: PG [Passed With Cuts]*

* Refers to Cut HK Version


Judging from some slight jerkiness during fast movement and the fact that the movie has the correct 24 frames-per-second running time, this PAL disc appears to have been created from a converted NTSC master. Derived from a mildly worn positive print, the transfer looks okay. Contrasts are rather harsh in spots and the image is a bit soft but colors are decent. Some master tape damage also goes rolling down the screen at one point and no video matte has been utilized, causing some explosions and flames to bleed over the hard matte on the print. The Cantonese audio is hissy but adequate, while the subtitle translation is somewhat improved over HK theatrical and video editions. That said, some of the insults are awfully contemporary and three lines during the climax inexplicably appear in Dutch. The main advantage this DVD release provides is the chance to see the uncut version of the picture, which includes bits of bloody violence originally trimmed by Golden Harvest to avoid a Category III rating. Extras consist of the HK trailer (which features the movie's pre-release English title, BURNING THE TEMPLE), a Picture Gallery that appears to be made up of video grabs, and a Ringo Lam filmography derived from the Internet Movie Database.

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