Full Contact (1992): Breakdown by Kain424
During a heist gone wrong, a criminal is betrayed and left for dead. Now he wants revenge.
[THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THEIR BADASSITUDE]
Full Contact is peppered with some of the most colorful characters in all of the genre, and in that respect it comes to resemble some of the best of the old school Shaw Bros. films. But most interestingly, director Ringo Lam has made two distinct groups of heroes and villains who are circus mirrored reflections of one another.
Chow Yun-Fat is Gou Fei
This is probably the most most physical and bad-ass Chow has ever been in an action movie. He’s not the cool, suave character he usually plays, but is equally straight and yet far more ferocious. A street fighter with the will to pull through, Gou Fei ( in some versions “Godfrey” or “Jeff”) is relentless force of nature who will never stop coming back until the job is finished. And while he will hold a death grudge to his enemies, his friends will always find from him loyalty and even forgiveness.
Anthony Wong is Sam Sei
Sam Fei is more of a tag-along type of person during the first bit of the film. It’s his switch to a more morally ambiguous character later on and then his return to friendship with Gou Fei that makes him memorable. It’s his chance at redemption in the eyes of his good friend (or brother) Gou Fei which drives him and even saves him. Still, despite his moral strength in the second half of Full Contact, Sam Sei remains something of a weakling. He is damaged, but is about all the movie offers us as hope.
Ann Bridgewater is Mona
Mona is a stable girl, working as a stripper. As odd as that seems, it gets even stranger as Mona is depicted as not only the most innocent of the bunch but also the film’s emotional and moral center. Her relationship with Sam Sei and Gou Fei is the film’s grounding. She is a fully developed character who, unlike those around her, seems to completely comprehend what’s at stake and her own place within the story.
Simon Yam is Judge
Yam gets to play opposite Chow’s straight man, and naturally goes the complete opposing direction as Judge. The guy is flamboyantly gay, dresses like early 90s Nicolas Cage, and seems to moonlight as a magician. If Gou Fei is an out in the open fighter who brandishes a showy butterfly knife, then Judge’s weapon is trickery and hidden weaponry, revealed only through sleight of hand. In addition to Yam’s tendency toward surprise attacks and underhandedness, he is wildly disloyal. He carries no moral qualms about killing his own loyal cohorts or sending his henchmen to their impending demises. It’s no wonder that his closest allies are incredibly unstable individuals.
Frankie Chin is Psycho
Played by the imposing Frankie Chin, Psycho is surprisingly simple. He is the brawny-meets-small brain stereotype, a continuously imbecilic man whose great physical strength actually seems to work against him. Still, as an M16-wielding maniac with a penchant for shooting cops, he should be considered a threat. But only a mild one.
Lau Ngang is Bonnie Fu
In what is already a wild and in-your-face type of film, Bonnie Fu is portrayed as the craziest and most explicitly sexual character. This is clearly a choice on the director’s part to make audience feel uneasy as in Thailand, where the movie was shot, this sort of unrestrained rampant sexuality was fairly taboo. Hell, in most countries in the world it still is. Bonnie Fu’s quest for sexual fulfillment is ridiculous and life-aversive. It ultimately leads to her downfall, but what’s perhaps most shocking is that she managed to live as long as she did.
[THE SEX AND VIOLENCE]
DUDESWEAT AND MACHISMO:
Aside from the usual themes of brotherhood and Simon Yam’s gay lover, there’s only the desperate need of Yam’s character to make love to Chow Yun-Fat’s character. This never happens, but Judge is thoroughly enraptured by Gou Fei’s eyes enough to repeatedly mention it to him. Most of the film’s sexualization, however, is of the man and woman variety. But since a lot of that is seen in a negative light, it’s possible Ringo Lam is trying to say that straight sex is bad sex. Or maybe he just doesn’t like sex all together.
EXPLOITATION AND MISOGYNY:
I mentioned above that Ann Bridgewater’s character seems to understand her place in the events unfolding throughout the film. This is because she’s wise enough to stay with the more right-headed Sam Fei instead of full-on converting to the dark side like Porter’s wife in Payback or Walker’s wife in Point Blank. She has no dependency on the vices of those characters or the men in her life. Instead, she truly cares for those around her and when she sees what has happened and what is likely going to happen, she is the only character smart enough to get the fuck out of town. It would be easy to go for an easy out here and say Mona is a stripper with a heart of gold, but that’s simply not the case. She’s a stripper with a brain and she knows she’ll never be happy with people who aren’t just happy to be with her.
MURDER BY NUMBERS: [ 24 ]
This is a thoroughly violent film. Headshots, burning bodies, and stabbings abound. So it might surprise one to learn the bodycount is only around 24, with half of that belonging to Chow Yun-Fat and his quest for vengeance. In the movie’s uncut version, there’s a sequence where Anthony Wong cuts out a dead man’s eye and Simon yam eats it… so that’s what we’re working with.
MOST SATISFYING DEATH:
I hate to spoil it for you, but the bad guy dies at the head. In all of his showy, talky blabbering, he gets a very painful death as his throat is shot out.
[THE BEST OF THE REST]
When Gou Fei simply tosses a live grenade at Psycho after the big lug asks for the merchandise. Chow’s natural swagger really sells the scene.
Chow Yun-Fat telling Simon Yam to “Go masturbate in Hell!” Seriously, who says that? Hilarious!
Full Contact‘s title comes up just as Ann Bridgewater gives us a nice crotch shot, and I am immediately smitten. As such, I feel it’s my duty to defend this movie a bit.
I’ve read this movie is an adaptation of the Donald Westlake novel, The Hunter, which was made into the Lee Marvin flick Point Blank and Mel Gibson’s Payback. Admittedly, I haven’t read the books, but I have seen the movies. Despite the same sort of set-up (protagonist betrayed and left for dead), I don’t see too much in the way of similarities. In particular, the character of Gou Fei, while a bouncer with a strict code of rules, is far from the anti-hero type offered up in either of the previous versions. Gou Fei is not after personal gain, but is using his deserved retribution to pay for the hospital bills and more medical care for an innocent bystander that was horribly burned and orphaned when Gou Fei was betrayed. Full Contact is much more in tune with the Heroic Bloodshed genre than the violent revenge one.
Ringo Lam has been called “John Woo-lite”, which I don’t think is fair. He certainly owes much to Woo, his emphasis on themes of brotherhood and its strain is but one of the many elements borrowed. And yet Lam does have his own kinetic style, which may lack the restraint of Woo but also makes Lam’s movies far more edgy than anything Woo ever put out (save for maybe Heroes Shed No Tears).
Full Contact is relentlessly violent from start to finish. Perhaps most surprising is the film’s attitude on violence toward women. One gets shot at point blank, right in the head. That’s probably one of the reasons the movie didn’t fair so well in Hong Kong, but it did manage to garner a cult following in the U.S. and the U.K.
Anthony Wong probably comes off the best here, acting-wise. He has a serious arc, going from something of a meek sidekick type to a hardcore legbreaker and then to a loyal friend to the death. With both Beast Cops and Infernal Affairs‘ success finally giving him his due, this really comes as no surprise, but I can only note the major differences between the character he played in Hard Boiled and Sam Sei, who he plays here, and be very impressed.
Simon Yam plays not just a gay character (which he also did in Drunken Master III), but a gay villain. And while gay bad guys are not unheard of (see Way of the Dragon), it was less common back in the early 90s when this film was made. This is part of Lam’s blunt subversion, pushing as many taboo things as possible onto the screen. In what probably infuriated the Thai more than anything else, Lam has a skanky Kei$ha-like woman being dry-humped on the edge of a Thai boxing ring. As rings are the hokiest things next to temples over there, and women only recently in history being allowed near them, this is particularly inflammatory.
The imagery, generally meant to shock, can also evoke the same unintentional emotional response at times. In one shot I always notice, there’s a huge swastika on the wall behind Chow Yun-Fat. As this is the buddhist symbol for eternity, I can only guess this is Lam’s semper fi brotherhood statement, given the scene and its context. But to a westerner, I immediately see it as a sign of impending doom. Still kinda works though.
It’s an interesting choice to have one of the film’s most dramatic moments be immediately followed by an exotic dance sequence set to what I can only describe as Donkey Kong Country music, but it sort of works. The movie is just so damn weird.
Of course, it’s the action that eventually works so well in the movie’s favor. As I noted above, Lam’s knack for the genre is in his own style and mixture of humor and violence. His bullet view (a precursor to the overused “bullet time”) is an especially nice trick. It’s also cool to see Lam reunited with Chow, even if the megastar is somewhat unsuited for the role. But overall, I would have to recommend this little movie. It might not be everyone’s cup of gunpowder-flavored tea, but it’s certainly good enough to see at least once.
[THE MORAL OF THE STORY]
Brotherhood is forever. And magicians are dangerous.