Two remarkable films from Hong Kong-based director Ringo Lam will screen on 35mm prints at Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater during this year’s New York Asian Film Festival. In City on Fire (1987, screening this Saturday at 8:30pm), a charming undercover detective (played by a young Chow Yun-fat) surrenders to departmental and familial pressure to infiltrate a gang of jewel robbers, which leads both to his stranding his fiancé (Carrie Ng) and to growing perilously close to the group’s most intelligent thief (Danny Lee). In Full Alert (1997, screening this Sunday at 2 P.M.), an initially family-grounded police investigator (Lau Ching-wan) veers towards psychopathy as he leads an increasingly obsessed and isolated hunt for a prison-escaped gang member (Francis Ng) and the man’s girlfriend (Chung Lai-Hung).
In both films—which are ostensibly urban action movies—violence is seen as a social disease. It infects decent people living on both sides of the law, and spreads from them virally to engulf their loved ones. These grim films might be unbearable were it not for Lam’s warm and sensitive attentions to his characters and for his actors’ richly emotional performances. The men and women at the hearts of these films live dreaming of escape from present-day sufferings, and make their best efforts to survive through a fragile hope (sometimes a delusion) of rising above them.
Lam himself (who was born in Hong Kong in 1955) will attend this year’s NYAFF presentations of his films and receive the festival’s Lifetime Achievement Award following City on Fire’s screening. In the interview below, he speaks about the making of both films as well as that of the forthcoming Wild City (2015), his first feature in eight years, and one that he has spoken about in other interviews as an informal close to a trilogy. Thanks go to Emma Griffiths, and particularly to NYAFF programmer and Lam assistant Dana Fukazawa, for facilitating the conversation.