One day a Film historian will discover just what Faustian pact was agreed back in the late 1990’s that decreed that if a Hong Kong film maker wanted to enter Hollywood then they must first make a movie with Jean Claude Van Damme. Personally, am still convinced that Van Damme was a life force sucking vampire as no-one was ever quite the same again creatively. Probably the worst affected was Ringo Lam who pre Hollywood was producing a string of edgy action thrillers to rival the best of his contemporaries. After watching his recent output, the re-release of “Full Contact” presents a chance to remind myself just what a force he was.

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Jeff, a nightclub bouncer, agrees to a robbery in Thailand to help out his friend Sam who owes money to loansharks. Sam’s cousin Judge and his associates Virgin and Deano betray Jeff, leaving Sam to supposedly shoot Jeff after a massacre of a Thai family. Jeff returns to Hong Kong for vengeance, a matter complicated by his girlfriend Mona now being with Sam having believed he was dead.

“Full Contact” is the dark mirror to the classical “Heroic Bloodshed” movies. Chow Yun Fat is completely and convincingly against type as Jeff. A vengeful presence far removed from his usual debonair self. Against him as Judge, Simon Yam walks off with the movie. Never afraid of pushing the boundaries he manages to be both sinister and camp, flirting with Jeff whilst seeking to kill him. Aside from Ann Bridgewater’s stereotypical Mona (who still manages to break free from cliche) the supporting cast is a rogue’s gallery of circus grotesque. Bonnie Fu’s permanently aroused Virgin pushes the boundaries of the Catagory II rating with her actions and Frankie Chan’s Deano as her musclehead boyfriend is equally loathsome. Rounding up the principles is Anthony Wong as the sleazy, cowardly Sam. Anthony Wong gives it everything and still manages to be one of the more subtle performances in a movie where everything is pushed to the edge.

It’s amazing to think that the man responsible for “Sky on Fire” could be responsible for the visuals in this movie. Point of view perspectives of bullets and a neon visual look create a hyper realistic style with the aforementioned performances played to the hilt. This is one violent movie with nothing shied away from. The characters aren’t glamorous and Jeff isn’t a sympathetic character, more a force of nature. The pace is relentless with everything turbocharged.

Hong Kong cinema justifiably earned it’s reputation in the 1990’s for being over the edge. This movie goes to the edge and proceeds to jump right off. Whilst a lot of it’s contemporaries would veer wildly in tone, “Full Contact” starts as it means to go on with it’s violent opening robbery before segwaying into an opening credits nightclub dance. There is a complete lack of sentiment (aside from the dog naturally!) and a sense that you are on a rollercoaster ride with the breaks off.

One of the landmark movies in Hong Kong action cinema, this is a movie to rediscover. Forget the disappointments of his recent output constrained by a more restrictive regime and enjoy a movie by one of Hong Kong’s true auteurs from a time when anything goes.