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Issue #175 HOME E-mail: mail@dighkmovies.com BACK ISSUES September 1st, 2003

Island of Fire (Taiwan Version)
(1990; Blaine and Blake/Da Shyue Film Co.)

A Masterpiece
Highly Recommended
Very Good
Marginal Recommendation
Not Recommended
Definitely Not Recommended

Cantonese: Foh siu do
Mandarin: Huo shao dao
English: Burning Fire Island

Alternate English Title: The Prisoner

After headlining several flops for Lo Wei's company, Jackie Chan finally hit the big time in Seasonal Films' SNAKE IN THE EAGLE'S SHADOW and DRUNKEN MASTER (both 1978). Golden Harvest then offered the actor an extremely lucrative deal that he was more than happy to accept. However, Lo insisted that Chan was still under contract to him and was not about to let such a huge, new star go without a fight. The veteran producer reportedly had triad backing on his side, leaving Chan in a most unenviable position. However, former Shaw Brothers star Jimmy Wang Yu (who is rumored to be connected himself) offered to act as a negotiator and Chan was eventually able to accept Raymond Chow's offer. As repayment, Chan agreed to appear in two of Wang's Taiwanese productions directed by Chu Yen-ping: the utterly insane FANTASY MISSION FORCE (1984) and this somewhat more prestigious effort, which co-stars three other major HK stars (also repaying a debt to Wang?). Unfortunately, Chan's presence in the cast led to the belief that he is the star of the film, which is certainly not the case.

Tony Leung Kar-fai plays a police officer who goes undercover in the pen, hoping to determine how the finger prints of a recently killed felon could belong to a con who had been executed three months before. While inside, he goes through the tortures of hell, after getting involved in matters that were better left alone (much like the character he played three years earlier in Ringo Lam's PRISON ON FIRE). His fellow prisoners include Chan (in for accidentally killing a card player, while trying to raise money to pay for an operation to save his girlfriend's life), Andy Lau Tak-wah (as the brother of the dead man, who has himself thrown in jail to exact revenge), Wang (as one of the leaders of the prisoners), and Sammo Hung Kam-po (as a compassionate but pathetic inmate, who frequently escapes to visit his young son). When Leung kills an especially corrupt guard (not a lot of upstanding folks in this one!) and is sentenced to a firing squad, the film goes off in a whole new direction, revealing that "deceased" cons are actually being used by the warden (Ke Chuen-hsiang) as hitmen to assassinate untouchable criminals!

BRUTE FORCE this ain't but the off-kilter plotting (one of the director's trademarks) certainly provides a respite from all the prison movie cliches in the first two-thirds, and there is some well-staged action (particularly during the climax, which was shot in The Philippines), so undiscriminating viewers should find this entertaining enough. Like most of Chan's films, outtakes run under the end credits, a rather off-putting conclusion to such an unrelentingly grim enterprise. The composite musical track includes cues lifted from the American films WAVELENGTH (1983) and BODY DOUBLE (1984), as well as library music heard in dozens of low budget Taiwanese and HK films. Tou Chong-hua, Jack Gao Jie, Yeh Chuan-chen, and Yip Wing-cho are among the supporting players.

ISLAND OF FIRE played most territories with a running time of 96 minutes. The Taiwanese DVD under review offers a chance to see the full length edition, which runs almost 30 minutes longer. The extra footage develops the characters to a greater extent (particular that of Leung's cell mate, played by Tou) and events now flow more smoothly. The fundamental problems are still there ("Originality" and "Subtlety" are simply not part of the Chu Yen-ping lexicon) but the film is modestly improved, making this edition the best choice for viewing.

Cover art courtesy Shengchi.

Jimmy Wang Yu and Tony Leung Kar-fai. Image courtesy Shengchi.

Jack Gao and Jackie Chan. Image courtesy Shengchi.
Sammo Hung. Image courtesy Shengchi.
Scholar Films/Shengchi #DG-1066 (Taiwan label)

Dolby Digital 2.0

Post-synced Mandarin Language Track

Permanent English and Traditional Chinese Subtitles

6 Chapters Illustrated in the Menu With Clips

Letterboxed (approx. 1.55:1)

Coded for Region 3 Only

NTSC Format

125 Minutes

Contains brutal violence, torture, and coarse language

DVD menu courtesy Shengchi.

Australia: M 15+ (High Level Violence)
Finland: K-16
Germany: 18
Great Britain: 18
Hong Kong: II
Norway: 15
Nova Scotia: 14 (Violent Scenes)
Ontario: R (Brutal Violence)
Singapore: PG
Sweden: 15
United States: R (for violence and language)

Note: The above ratings apply to the short version only.


The transfer obviously dates back to the original VHS release, with a soft image, somewhat pasty hues, and light blacks. A video matte has not been utilized, causing the uneven hard matte lines to be visible and the ratio to fluctuate occasionally. Contrasts and details are merely fair, and the sound tends to be harsh. Some master tape damage is also apparent. No extras.

This version of ISLAND OF FIRE is available at Poker Industries.

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