- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 16, 2001

We're ready to exonerate Quentin Tarantino on those longstanding charges that he ripped off Ringo Lam's City on Fire for his own "Reservoir Dogs." That comes after viewing Mr. Lam's 1987 actioner, new from Dimension Home Video and our …

Video pick of the week

The hook that propels "Dogs" the search for the informant who tipped off the cops before a bloody botched robbery plays a very minor last-reel role in "City," a film that also lacks the elaborately time-fractured storytelling techniques of "Dogs." We can clearly see where "City" may have sparked the basic idea for Mr. Tarantino's breakthrough caper, but they really are two very different films.
On its own, "City on Fire" (priced for rental VHS, also available on DVD) rates as an intense drama that focuses more on reluctant undercover cop Chow Yun-Fat's personal woes including conflicts with fellow fuzz and a girlfriend who threatens to flee to Toronto with a Hong Kong fat cat and his budding friendship with one of the criminals he's been assigned to collar.
Alternately playful and tormented, future "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" lead Chow exhibits star power to spare, while director Lam and action choreographer Joe Chi supply the pic with creative but credible stunts and shootouts, stopping short of fellow Hong Kong filmmaker John Woo's over-the-top approach.
Particularly fascinating is the extreme physical brutality some of Mr. Chow's own colleagues subject him to when they suspect he's gone over to the other side; We'd be hard put to think of a similar scene in an American film.
While "City" fails to reach the top echelon of stylized Woo epics like "The Killer" or "Hard-Boiled," it's a far better bet than Tsui Hark's newly released 2001 Time and Tide (Columbia/ TriStar, priced for rental VHS, also available on DVD), where the visual flash and dash fail to overcome an incoherent story line. Our only complaint about "City on Fire" is Dimension's omission of a subtitled and dubbed edition on one wide-screen DVD (though the dubbing is better than most).
Fans of classy Hong Kong action fare will also want to check out Jet Li in Mr. Hark's engrossing historical martial-arts saga Once Upon a Time in China 3, coming soon from Columbia/TriStar (priced for rental VHS, also available on DVD). For a less frenetic Asian import, look for Anna Hui's acclaimed Shadow Magic, focusing on the influence of movies in turn-of-the-century Peking, due from Winstar Entertainment ($14.98 VHS, $19.98 DVD).

The 'A' list

Recent theatrical titles making their home-video bows over the next couple of weeks include a fast-vanishing action pair from Warner: Sylvester Stallone and Burt Reynolds in Driven and Steven Seagal and DMX in Exit Wounds. Also on the horizon: Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz in the dope opera Blow (New Line), and Guy Pearce and Carrie-Anne Moss in the amnesia-driven cult thriller Memento (Columbia/ TriStar).
HBO Video, meanwhile, translates two titles from the tube to video: Billy Crystal's excellent baseball movie 61, detailing Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle's seasonlong chase to break Babe Ruth's cherished single-season home-run record; and Emma Thompson in Mike Nichols' sophisticated medical drama Wit. All of the above will be priced for rental and also available on DVD.

Collectors' corner

In new collectible developments, 20th Century Fox slims stickers (to $14.98 each) on a quartet of high-profile titles: Robert De Niro and Cuba Gooding, Jr. in the fact-based naval drama Men of Honor; Colin Farrell in the intense Vietnam-themed Tigerland; the lighter-toned comedy remake Bedazzled, starring Elizabeth Hurley and the ever-busy Brendan Fraser; and the romantic fable Woman on Top, showcasing Penelope Cruz.

Phan mail

Dear Phantom: I'm looking for the Hayley Mills comedy The Trouble with Angels, also with Rosalind Russell. Is it on video?
Walter Mills, via e-mail
Movies Unlimited (800/4-MOVIES) carries "Trouble," recently reduced from $59.99 to $14.99 and has the sequel "Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows" at the same price.

Send your video comments and queries to Phantom of the Movies, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002 or send e-mail to [email protected]

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