School on Fire

School on Fire ★★★★★

I should have known better. School On Fire has a reputation for being a brutal watch. But for some reason, perhaps because my introduction to Ringo Lam was Full Contact, I was expecting this story of high school teens and Triads to be pulpy and over-the-top.

But it wasn’t. At all. School On Fire was harrowing, painfully real and grounded, scathing, depressing. School halls become a petri dish of crime, abuse, and broken systems; there is no wall between the pressures of the seething streets and the intimate struggles of the younger generation. Cops, crooks, loyalty, punishment, it all bleeds into the classroom like venom, until innocence putrefies into raw violence and self-destruction. School On Fire is savagely honest in its portrayal of life at the crossroads of oppressive authorities; that realist approach extends to the day-to-day of Hong Kong’s impoverished, to the unglorified ripped-from-reality ugliness of its bloodshed.

Ringo Lam escalates the chaos by horrific unflinching degrees, empathetically in sync with protagonist Yuen Fong and her imploding life. The final act explodes in a cathartic crescendo of naked emotion and carved flesh, a whirlwind of blades, bullets, blood, and rage. Even with the noticeable (sometimes jarring) censoring in the version on Prime, School On Fire is a suffocating crime/drama/action masterpiece.

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