First Shot (1993) Movie Review

Back in the “˜80s and “˜90s, you could walk into a Hong Kong video store and walk out with a dozen movies like David Lam’s First Shot. You could go back the very next day and come out with another dozen, all-new films in the same genre. The point is, movies like First Shot are a dime a dozen back in the “˜80s and “˜90s, and Hong Kong was producing them with assembly line efficiency. For the most part, the acting in these films were poor, the directions just barely competent, and the writings uninspired.

First Shot stars Ti Lung as an honest cop name Wong who discovers, much to his detriment, that being an honest cop in Hong Kong is not a good idea. After he leads a raid on a drug dealer protected by a top crime lord name Faucet (Waise Lee), Wong gets a bullet in the back of the head for his troubles. Wong proves to be resilient and instead of dying, he recovers a year later even more determined than ever to take the corruption out of the Hong Kong police department. But that’s easier said than done, as it seems everyone in said Hong Kong police department is crooked. When Wong is recruited by Annie Ma (Maggie Cheung), an assistant to the new Hong Kong Governor, he sets up a small, elite group of men to take on the corruption…

First of all, First Shot is a remake of Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables, starring Kevin Costner and Sean Connery, who won an Oscar for his performance. Director Lam and his writers are not concern with doing anything original here, as First Shot is almost a plot-by-plot and scene-by-scene translation of De Palma’s film. Some of the characters here are amalgamation of multiple characters from De Palma’s version, but most are straight interpretations.

Waise Lee’s Faucet, for example, is a carbon copy of Robert De Niro’s Al Capone, and Wong is a combination of Kevin Costner’s Elliot Ness and Sean Connery’s Jim Malone. Lam must have been on a tight schedule because instead of doing a period piece and going all the way back to the 1930s like De Palma did, Lam only goes back as far as 1973. I’ve only seen De Palma’s The Untouchables a few times, but I can say with reasonable accuracy that nearly 80% of First Shot is unoriginal material.

Unoriginal filmmaking aside, First Shot suffers greatly from shoddy writing. Besides the inspired scenes taken directly from De Palma’s films — such as when Wong recruits his foot soldiers straight out of the police Academy to ensure they haven’t been corrupted yet — the “original” concepts in First Shot are downright lazy. For example, the characters of the crooked cops are indistinguishable from one another, but that hardly matters since all of them are corrupted and seems unconcern with flashing around their “corruptness” to anyone who asks. The cops are so brazen in their corrupt nature that they become cartoon figures with “evil” signs flashing on their foreheads. There’s no subtlety to be found here.

Maggie Cheung (In the Mood for Love) is grossly out of place and looks like she’d rather be somewhere else. The usually flashy Simon Yam plays a flashy and crooked cop who turns a new leaf and joins Wong’s “untouchables.” Brief scenes between Yam and Cheung’s characters are easily the movie’s bright spots, since The Untouchables was devoid of romance, and the romance here was a nice addition. Ti Lung, a personal fan favorite, really has no idea if he’s playing a tough guy or if he’s in a comedy, so he goes back and forth without much conviction.

Waise Lee’s Faucet is another plus, as the character is so cavalier in his “evilness” that the movie is most entertaining when he’s onscreen. Bobby Yip has the unenviable role of Faucet’s assassin — credited as “Ugly Assassin” — who is of course a translation of Frank Nitti, Al Capone’s enforcer. In a stroke of originality (*tongue firmly in cheek*) director David Lam puts the Ugly Assassin in all-black. (As most people know, Frank Nitti was known for his all-white wardrobe.)

There really isn’t much else to say about First Shot. Direction by David Lam is competent, although the film becomes almost unwatchable towards the end when Wong storms Faucet’s hideout to ensure an unnecessary bloody shootout. The sequence is plague with bad filmstock, and as a result the movie’s colors kept changing. But that’s not much of a complaint, since anyone who has seen his or her share of bad Hong Kong films produced in the “˜80s and “˜90s know all about bad filmstock.

If you happen to like this sort of cop drama, my suggestion is to pick up Brian De Palma’s 1987 version (which was itself based on a popular TV cop show of the same name from the “˜50s). That one actually won a few Oscars, is considered one of Brian De Palma’s best work, and Sean Connery’s performance is pure genius. De Palma’s film also features an intense gunfight toward the end on a staircase that involves gunmen, Ness, and a runaway baby carriage. It’s a true nail-biter of a scene.

David Lam (director)
CAST: Maggie Cheung …. Annie Ma
Frankie Chin …. Muscle
Andy Chi-On Hui …. Waterloo
Sek-Ming Lau …. Yip Chun-Wan

Buy First Shot on DVD
=’ –>