The Big Heat

The Big Heat ★★★★

The first memorable Johnnie To film is also his first crime one. It is less a matter of genre fitting him as it is just changing creative producers. He is still very much the matteur en scene of someone else’s vision by this point, but this time the vision is Tsui Hark’s and that makes all the difference. The images have a blunt forceful quality, quick splashes of rather symbolic violence that are rather alien to To’s sensibility but fit Tsui’s nicely. The Big Heat is ridiculous gory even by 80’s HK very violent standards: the film opens by representing Waise Lee’s cop fear of losing his shooting hand movement (his handicap is The Big Heat’s most To-like touch) by imagining it getting drilled on and things just get bloodier from there (it even has a shoot-out beheading in the first ten minutes!). To has been on record that all the violence was Tsui’s idea and as Stephen Teo has pointed out it verges on horror film territory. July 1997 gets name checked and The Big Heat is very much an apocalyptic film about a city’s eminent corruption. The title is an obvious reference to Fritz Lang’s classic and like it, this a very catholic violent descent into a city’s sins, a necessary blood-soaked purge.

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