Full Contact ★★★★★

"Masturbate in hell!"

Spectacular, in every sense of the word. Chow Yun-Fat stars in a rare, unlikely turn as a humble, but unrepentantly violent Bangkok-based thug. Nowadays he is best remembered for his more honorable and/or remorseful roles in John Woo's THE KILLER (1989) and HARD BOILED (1992), but FULL CONTACT breaks from Chow's usual character type. Even in 1992, the leading man with character actor chops had a local (HK) John Wayne-level reputation to maintain and consequently this departure from the norm cost its director and star the Hong Kong box office. It's hard to see your chiefly moral role model become a cold-blooded, if charismatic, asshole raging in an urban western.

FULL CONTACT begins bathed in beautiful cross-sections of blue and red light, with dance beats and thumping bass behind a FLASHDANCE lookalike opener. Title hovers overtop, a rose separating the two words. Next, a flurry of capital C cool low-angle shots of Chow Yun-Fat, the sort that ooze pomp, power, authority, and leather-clad swagger. His signature butterfly knife clicks open and closed in a terrifying rhythm, that like the quickened pitter-patter of the heart registers as an unconscious response to danger. From these mere first moments, Ringo Lam establishes its scuzzy, street justice ethos, a rarefied world where there is no honor even amongst the thieves: there is only the self.

Also features: Chow Yun-Fat with a hi-top fade (seriously); Simon Yam as an openly gay villain/antagonist; Anthony Wong as the man who metamorphoses from nothing to something at a tremendous cost; a slut named Virgin; a subtle indictment of the U.S. military (providing a criminal with a weapons cache); sweet-ass, macho anglicized names like Judge and Deano; the kind of revenge story that creeps up slow, under a veil of illusion, and savors every delicious moment from the best seat in the house; what I wager is the birth of modern "bullet-time" (pre-Matrix) in a 3rd act shoot-out where the camera angles used illustrate a slightly removed bullet POV whenever either Chow (Jeff) or Yam (Judge) fire a round off at each other; a seriously sincere feminist character who, as soon as she learns how fucked-up things are, straight-up leaves the man who proved dishonest and rebukes the man who she believed dead and who, to her, is no more than a ghost who she neither needs, wants, nor understands; a finale where a heavy rain washes away sins and sinners alike.

I felt from the very first moment I saw FULL CONTACT's bold, simple, and totally badass poster that it ought to be something special, but couldn't have predicted so much enthusiasm on my part for what is a fantastic whole. It doesn't boast the economy or mainstream appeal of Lam's CITY ON FIRE, but it sure as hell does have a lot going for it, insofar as it concerns that most important element that you either have or you don't (and that cannot be taught): style.

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