The Big Heat (1988)
By: Stuart Giesel on February 26, 2012  | 
DVD
Media Asia | All Regions, NTSC | 1.85:1 (Non-anamorphic) | Cantonese DD 2.0 | 92 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Credits
Director: Andrew Kam, Johnnie To
Starring: Waise Lee, Wang Tsu Hsien, Matthew Wong, Philip Kwok
Screenplay: Gordon Chan
Country: Hong Kong
External Links
IMDB YouTube YouTube
Certainly not to be confused with the 1953 film noir of the same name, The Big Heat might very well have been your bog-standard Hong Kong police actioner with some decent action scenes - though not on par with anything John Woo or Ringo Lam might once have made - were it not for the surprising amount of brutality on display.

The story is by-the-numbers and acted accordingly. Chief Inspector Waipong Wong (Waise Lee, from John Woo's Bullet In The Head and A Better Tomorrow) is on the verge of quitting due to a problem with his hand seizing up at inopportune times (gee, I wonder if that'll happen at a critical time in the movie?) but puts his plans on hold when he hears about the murder of a former partner who saved his life. The murky trail leads from a wealthy businessman who's being blackmailed to a drug dealer who has seemingly corrupted half of the Hong Kong police. Putting aside any concerns for his girlfriend (rather callously, I might add), as well as any sense of reason, caution or respect for due process, he and his team plan to take down the drug lord any way they can.

That's pretty much it for plot. But this is a Hong Kong action film, right? What matters here are the little details, for this is a cavalcade of brutality: gory gunfights, fingers being blown off, a drill through the hand, decapitation by sheet metal, an especially amazing freeway death scene, a body cut in half, and so on. No one is spared: not criminals nor cops nor innocent bystanders, not even children.

Violence aside, it's a pretty good watch. The main leads are all likeable in their own way, even though we have your typical cop cliches in the form of the stoic (and silent) leading man with a painful secret, the incredibly green rookie, the reliable sidekick. The villain (Chu Kong who's probably best known as Chow Yun-Fat's mentor in The Killer) is as slimy and despicable as you'd expect. As is typical for a Hong Kong movie from this era, the females get the short straw in terms of characterisation and scene time. There are some terrific set-pieces throughout, but even in the quieter moments the film doesn't come to a dead stop as is what sometimes occurs in these sorts of films.

Tightly directed by Johnnie To (currently one of the reigning directors in HK) and Andrew Kam, The Big Heat is well worth seeking out if you thought a cop thriller like Jackie Chan's Crime Story could have done with more body parts being liberally removed.

Note that the DVD distributed by Media Asia is fully uncut - beware other copies.
Video
Pretty poor. Hong Kong films aren't renowned for their Scorsese-like preservation of film stock, and it shows with plenty of artifacts and grain in this non-anamorphic transfer. It's a shame, as the film looks stylish.
Audio
Typical stuff. You get the original Cantonese track or a Mandarin track in Stereo only, with the usual cheap-'n-quick music and sound effects prevalent in a lot of 80's Hong Kong films.
Extra Features
There's a trailer for The Big Heat, trailers for three other Hong Kong films and, erm, that's it. I guess the fact that the movie is uncut could be considered a feature, too.
The Verdict
Less flashy than John Woo's HK output, The Big Heat is a luridly violent cop action-thriller that is a must for Hong Kong action cinema fans.
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score

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