Even those film buffs who have yet to see a film directed by Ringo Lam may recognise the name. When Quentin Tarantino was publicly confronted with the charge that Reservoir Dogs (1992) had stolen several major plot moves and situations from Lam's action film City on Fire (1987), the Lord of Cool shrugged and replied that he had a poster for this fine Hong Kong movie on his lounge room wall.
Lam is a prolific filmmaker. At his best, aficionados declare, Lam is the equal of John Woo (Hard Boiled, 1992). There are signs of such a high talent in this ragged but always captivating action-melodrama.
Popular Hong Kong movies like to borrow from all over – from each other as well as from successful American and European genres. The framing situation in this film recalls the epic, political narratives of The Deer Hunter (1978) or Woo's Bullet in the Head (1990). In the 1970s, a young child sees his family murdered in Cambodia as the Khmer Rouge marches in. The face of the sadistic killer remains with him, and he vows revenge.
The villain, Ray (Paul Chin Pei), rises to the top of a criminal empire, and Yan (Andy Lau) pursues him. However, it is only after the CIA takes Yan under its wing that he gets a real crack at his nemesis – under cover of a new name and identity.
It has often been noted that Hong Kong movies of this ilk are short on conventional, three-dimensional psychology. Characters alter starkly from moment to moment; personality is more a matter of strategy, appearance or play than of essential human nature.
In mainstream Western culture, it seems the only thing we accept that is constructed in this two-dimensional way is TV soap opera.
The loss is ours. The joy of The Adventurers is the merry way it juxtaposes bloody action, reflective political themes and hot sex-and-power intrigues reminiscent of Melrose Place – as Yan manoeuvres between a vicious femme fatale (Rosamund Kwan) and a rebellious but more virtuous love interest (Wu Chien-lien).
The Adventurers sometimes has the feel of a hastily thrown-together concoction – a not uncommon phenomenon in Hong Kong cinema – but the action scenes are thrillingly choreographed, and the melodramatic storyline never ceases to amaze.
MORE Lam: Maximum Risk
© Adrian Martin October 1995