Prison on Fire 2 (1991)

Own it!

review by Scott Hamilton and Chris Holland
See also:

God of Gamblers' Return

A Better Tomorrow 3

Full Contact

Once a Thief

Prison on Fire 2

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Our rating: three LAVA® motion lamps.

Chow perfects his prison grimace.
Don't let the number in the title fool you, you don't have to have seen Prison on Fire to enjoy this film. This movie is completely self-contained, and is probably superior to the original. Prison on Fire 2 is a ripoff of Cool Hand Luke, but like many HK ripoffs of Hollywood films, it manages to be an effective film in its own right.

In Prison on Fire 2, the indefatigable Chow plays an inmate in a Hong Kong prison named Ah Ching. Ah is in prison for killing his wife, and is trying his best to raise his small son on the outside with the help of a social worker. The prison, however, is a bit of a powder keg due to the fact that the authorities have incarcerated a gang from mainland China, led by a criminal named Dragon, in the prison with the native Hong Kongers. So tensions are running a bit high.

Then things get worse for Ah, in the form of a borderline-insane Warden Zau, played well by Elvis Tsui. Zau comes down hard on the good natured Ah on the grounds that he is too good at cheering up the other prisoners. Ah is denied a weekend pass to visit his son by Zau, so Ah has no recourse but to escape. Ah turns himself in, but a situation is engineered by Zau that forces Ah to escape again. This time Ah meets up on the outside with Dragon, the leader of the Chinese gang, who has also escaped from the prison. The two male bond in typical HK fashion.

Ah is eventually recaptured, and Zau places Ah in the wing of the prison that houses the violent Chinese. Ah attempts to talk his way out, but soon the prison is on fire (hence the title) and all that pent-up hostility explodes in a full scale riot.

One thing that is striking about this film is how civilized the prison seems, compared to the prisons in US films. There are several riots, but despite director Ringo Lam's in-your-face style, they still seem less rowdy than the average American football game. It seems that HK jails just don't have the same 'jungle' reputation US jails have.

Ah Ching and his son.
The best reason to see this movie is Chow Yun Fat. Chow gives a great performance as the happy go lucky Ah. He gets to show the range of his acting, proving to US audiences that he can play roles other than those we've seen in John Woo films. In Prison on Fire 2 he gets to do straight drama, action, and some comedy too. It's no wonder this guy is one of the biggest actors in Asia.

Prison on Fire 2 is also an eye-opening film for Americans who may only be familiar with Ringo Lam from the rather lack-luster Maximum Risk. Though Prison on Fire 2 is not considered to be one of his major works, this is still a darn good film. It is well focused, despite the number of different plot elements the script includes, and the action scenes are pretty darn intense. Prison on Fire 2 pushes all the right buttons, and we recommend it to anyone who likes HK films, or wants to explore the genre.

Review date: 05/12/1997

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