Full Contact (1992)

Own it!

review by Scott Hamilton and Chris Holland
See also:

A Better Tomorrow 3

Prison on Fire 2


Full Contact

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Our rating: four LAVA® motion lamps.

Judge shows off his
"thumb as a lighter" trick.
Full Contact is an absolutely no holds-barred film from producer/director Ringo Lam. Hong Kong films are often violent and intense, but Full Contact puts most of them to shame. It is an excellent example of the heroic bloodshed thriller, an ironic name for a genre of films where the 'heroes' are more often than not hard to like.

Chow plays Jeff, a bouncer at bar that would be seedy if it were in Hong Kong, but seeing as how it's in Thailand, it's pretty conservative. Jeff is married to Mona, a dancer at the club, and is best friends with Chung and Sam.

Our story starts when Sam gets into to hock with a violent loan shark in order to cover the expenses of Jeff's mother's funeral. Jeff has to rescue him when the loan shark threatens to take his interest in flesh. To get the money the gangster wants, Sam suggests Jeff and Chung join him on a little armed robbery he is planning on undertaking with his cousin's gang.

His cousin, Judge (Simon Yam), is a flamboyant psychopath with a penchant for slight-of-hand tricks, and his gang is just about as strange. Virgin manages to be totally unappealing despite her great body and revealing wardrobe. And Deano is her lover, a huge man, but not very smart.

Now none of these people are very stable. The first meeting between Jeff, his friends, and Judge's gang ends in gun fire. Incredibly, though, they decide to go ahead with the robbery of a crimelord's arms shipment.

The robbery goes down with out a hitch, other than the fact that that Judge shoots Chung in the head, killing him. So Jeff attacks Judge. In the ensuing fight Judge cuts off two of Jeff's fingers, and then forces Sam to shoot Jeff after the fighting accidently kills and/or maims all the members of an innocent family.

Everyone thinks Jeff is dead, but he really survived. He goes into hiding and spends his time toughening his body and training himself to shoot with his left hand, because he's missing his thumb and trigger finger on his right. Once he has retrained his body and aim, Jeff enacts a complex and malicious revenge upon Sam (for shooting him and then taking up with Mona, who thinks Jeff is dead) and Judge (who conspired with the loan shark to kill off Jeff, Sam, and Chung once the robbery was complete).

Virgin shares her personal
opinion of Jeff.
Although the first portion of the film is certainly engaging enough -- only a half hour gone, and already there's been an intense knife fight, a strip club, an armed truck robbery, a car chase, and a double-cross -- it really can't compare with Jeff's deliberate and careful manipulation of the other players in the story. He convinces Sam to betray Judge, and then reveals that betrayal to the other gang members, all the while keeping the upper hand against impossible odds.

Particularly vicious is his treatment of Sam. Granted, Sam probably deserves it, but it's brutal and fascinating to watch. Sam, a weak man who has been pushed into the despicable position of thief and murderer, has no real way to redeem himself. If only Hallmark made a card that says "I shot you and left you for dead, and now I'm sleeping with your wife who thinks you're dead, but I'm really sorry!" a lot of this ugliness could have been avoided.

There is a lot of set up in this movie. Every conflict in the last half of the movie is built up to by lots of conniving and character revealing moments. If the action scenes were not fantastic, this movie could have seemed disappointing. Luckily, the action scenes are fantastic. In one showdown that takes place in Ringo Lam's favorite environment, the darkened night club, Jeff and Judge exchange gunfire, while the camera allows us to follow the bullets as they ricochet, take out lights, hit people in the eye, and break panes of glass.

Amazingly, despite all of the scenes where Jeff impales people's hands with his butterfly knife, it turns out this movie was meant to be even more violent than the final print already is. After the robbery turns bad for Jeff and company, Judge sends Sam into a burning house to kill Jeff, threatening to kill Sam if he doesn't follow through. Although Sam knuckles under and shoots Jeff once, he fires the remaining shots into the air, leaving Jeff to die in the burning house.

What we didn't see is that Judge actually asked Sam to bring back Jeff's eyes as proof. Even though these scenes were totally cut, you can see evidence that they were there. Early in the film when Judge is still pretending to be friendly, he comments on Jeff's 'attractive' eyes. And when Sam walks out of the house where he's left the bleeding Jeff, you can tell that he is holding something in his right hand (actually the eyes of another occupant of the house). In the pre-edited version of the film, Judge pops "Jeff's" eyes into his mouth! As if Judge doesn't seem evil enough in the final version.

Full Contact is a film about love and betrayal among thieves and friends; it's the perfect vehicle for Chow Yun Fat, who manages the cold-blooded killer act quite well. Watch the look of annoyance on his face as he steals Judge's most recent cargo of arms -- the hoods who try to stop him are mere obstacles to be flattened in his quest for revenge and justice. It's unfortunate that only Hong Kong filmmakers, free of the Hollywood studio system, seem to be able to make this kind of film so well.

Own it!

Review date: 05/12/1997

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