School on Fire

School on Fire ★★★★★

Possibly my favorite Ringo Lam movie. There’s a distinct feeling of oppressive hopelessness pervading throughout the movie, every institution is rotten to the core and nothing but despair for most of the cast. The film mostly focuses on Fennie Yuen’s protagonist , whose life takes a downward spiral after getting involved with high school delinquents, but there’s a strong ensemble cast.

But Roy Cheung is the MVP of this movie. He does an amazing job conveying the arrogant swagger of a crime boss who is able to operate totally above the law. He’s always a good fit for Ringo Lam’s work, particularly in both Prison on Fire and City on Fire.

It’s a very depressing movie without much levity. The final chase sequence feels like something out of a horror movie(very close to the final chase in the original Terminator). Many Hong Kong movies of the era featured tonal shifts from brutal violence to slapstick comedy, but this one mostly plays it straight. Even the cheesy and dated 80’s pop music in the nightclub scenes fits with the hedonism of the era. Beyond’s song Arabian Dancing Girl(亞拉伯跳舞女郎) is particularly memorable.

I do have a few gripes with this movie; one is the American Graffiti-esque overlay over the final montage, which gives us unnecessary closure on each character’s fate. Another is that the censorship in some of the violent scenes is very jarring. Both of these feel like studio mandates, so I can’t blame Ringo Lam for it.

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