Ringo Lam’s Full Contact is a There’s No Honor Among Thieves Movie, a genre of film categorized by the presence of an anti-hero (that is, he’s a criminal but he’s also the hero of the piece) and the betrayal of that anti-hero by his co-horts — he’s double-crossed and is either shot and left for dead or framed and left to rot in prison. The anti-hero always returns for payback, usually involving some elaborate scheme to get even with everyone who participated in the betrayal. He will almost always have a love interest who assumed he was dead/has given up on him and has a new life with someone, sometimes even with the betrayer himself, and there will be plenty of scenes as our anti-hero watches from afar as his old girlfriend goes on with her life.
Full Contact is a Ringo Lam film starring Chow Yun Fat as Jeff, a club bouncer in Bangkok, Thailand, who after crossing a local crime chieftain has to flee with his dancer girlfriend, a fellow bouncer, and his best buddy, Sam (Anthony Wong). The foursome flees into the countryside, but quickly realizes they need money to leave town. Luckily, Sam has a cousin named Judge (Simon Yam) who is an all-around bad guy. Judge has plans to hijack a truck full of weapons and he needs help to make it happen. Jeff, Sam, and Chung (the other bouncer) put their lot in with Judge’s crew despite a bad first impression.
The hijacking goes off without a hitch, but unfortunately for Jeff, Judge has made a deal with the Bangkok chieftain who Jeff crossed and the deal is for Jeff’s head on a platter. In the ensuing chaos, Judge kills Chung, tries to kill Jeff, and the conflicting duo ends up at a roadside diner where after some headbanging, a situation arises where Judge orders Sam to kill Jeff or be killed himself. Sam does, reluctantly, and Judge blows up the restaurant for good measure. Unfortunately for them, Jeff survives (minus a few fingers) and is determined to get even.
Plot-wise, there really is nothing new in Full Contact. We know we’ll see a brief montage of Jeff recuperating, then regaining his strength, and then regaining the use of his hand. We know he’ll return and everyone will be surprised, especially Mona (Ann Bridgewater), Jeff’s girlfriend, who is now shacking up with Sam. We also know that Jeff is royally ticked and he has plans for everyone. We know the girlfriend will still be in love with Jeff, and that Jeff’s return will shake everything up.
Without anything original to add to the genre, the movie needs an ace in the hole: it gets it in Simon Yam. Yam’s Judge is a cool, calm, and collected killer who prefers men to women (mind you, one doesn’t have anything to do with the other). Yam’s Judge is the most interesting character in the film, overshadowing even Yun Fat’s Jeff. The most amazing thing is that Yam never once turns Judge into a cartoon cutout; Judge comes across as eccentric but otherwise a very real flesh and blood person. Kudos to Yam for fighting back the Hong Kong acting method of overdoing everything.
Unfortunately, Bonnie Fu, who plays Virgin (a member of Judge’s murderous crew, and who is anything but), doesn’t have the acting chops that Yam does, and thus overplays her role. After a while, Fu’s Virgin becomes so utterly annoying that she gets on your nerves. Yam is so good in his role that you might actually consider rooting for him. The guy is that cool.
That is not to say the other actors are bad. Anthony Wong also deserves mention as Sam, the hapless friend who changes into a hardcore gangster after “killing” Jeff. His transformation is believable because Wong doesn’t overplay the role. Another member of Judge’s crew, the person playing Deano, seems to be trying to catch up with Bonnie Fu’s Virgin in the overacting category. The two comes across as buffoons and are the only real weak spots in the film. As Mona, Amy Bridgewater (a Chinese actress), gets to dance on stage in various scenes, but otherwise doesn’t do or show much ability. She’s just there to be fawn over by the male characters, though it’s a surprise why, since she’s neither very attractive or have any desirable personality.
The other ace can be attributed to director Ringo Lam, who brings a certain flair to the genre not seen in a while. Lam isn’t going for a John Woo-type action film, something that he might have been tempted to do, especially with a leading man in Yun Fat, who has been a muse in many Woo films. Instead of going for over-the-top action, Lam relies on very down-to-Earth gritty gunfights and hand-to-hand action accompanied by creative camera techniques.
The shootout at the nightclub towards the end of the movie is the film’s real treat. In it, Lam throws various camera tricks at us, including one that gives the audience the chance to fly along with the trajectory of bullets being fired. The technique is used spectacularly without being over the top. The intensity of the gunfight comes through in spades.
Full Contact is not new, is not groundbreaking, but with Lam’s style and Simon Yam’s portrayal of Judge on its side, it is a film worth seeking out.
Ringo Lam (director) / Yin Nam (screenplay)
CAST: Yun-Fat Chow …. Jeff
Simon Yam …. Judge
Ann Bridgewater …. Mona
Anthony Wong Chau-Sang …. Sam
Bonnie Fu …. Virgin