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  Final Justice Shoot first, think later
Year: 1988
Director: Parkman Wong
Stars: Danny Lee, Stephen Chow Sing-Chi, Shing Fui-On, William Ho Ka-Kui, Tommy Wong Kwong-Leung, Victor Hon Kwan, Ricky Yi, Ken Lo, Chiu Jun-Chiu, Wong Aau, Debbie Chui, Stephen Chang, Hung Tung-Kim, Strawberry Yeung Yuk-Mui
Genre: Action, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Cocky street punk Boy (Stephen Chow Sing-Chi) chauffeurs ruthless triad Judge (Shing Fui-On) on his first day out of jail. After marveling at the modern metropolis Hong Kong has become, Judge and his psychotic partners in crime grab some guns to get a piece of the action with a string of increasingly audacious and violent robberies. Meanwhile, cops at the local police precinct quiver and quake with the arrival of belligerent, by-the-book Chief Inspector Lo (Ricky Yi). However, Lo clashes instantly with more seasoned Sergeant Cheung (Danny Lee) whose flash motorbike, leather jacket and shades mark him as your usual maverick cop. Naturally, Cheung's unorthodox methods get results even as they get right up Lo's nose. When Cheung catches Boy stealing a car he ends up with an ideal informant to help bring down Judge and his gang, but has his work cut out trying to persuade the reluctant delinquent.

Much as 48 Hrs. (1982) did for Eddie Murphy, a scene-stealing supporting role in Final Justice provided the perfect launch pad for former children's television presenter Stephen Chow Sing-Chi. This was Chow's first film role paving the way for such future comedy classics as Love on Delivery (1994), Shaolin Soccer (2001) and Kung Fu Hustle (2004). However, the first thing fans of those films will notice is despite playing a seemingly comical character, Chow cracks no jokes. Instead he delivers an impassioned dramatic performance as the outwardly abrasive but vulnerable young thug caught between monstrous triad thugs and bullying cops. It is often said that the presiding theme in Cantonese cinema is the unfair disparity between rich and poor and the inability of government or official parties to help. As such Chow's character proves emblematic of flash, brash, neon-lit Eighties Hong Kong, a little fish swimming upstream, desperate to succeed but more often at the mercy of the driving currents or bigger fish be they triads or uncaring cops. While talky and stilted, Final Justice successfully uses Chow's anti-hero as a mouthpiece for public dissatisfaction as he is framed for murder, forced to act as an informant, endures a savage beating and come the climax is literally caught between cops and criminals with seemingly no way out.

Final Justice was one of only three films directed by Parkman Wong, who was more prolific as an actor though he also wrote crime comedy Oh! My Cops! (1983) and thrillers Thank You, Sir (1989) and Red Badge (1991) as vehicles for actor-producer-director Danny Lee with whom he acted on several occasions. It is slower paced and comparatively light on crazy stunts for an Eighties Hong Kong thriller though Wong handles the final car chase-cum-shootout pretty well. Written by James Fung, the plot takes too long to establish a definitive direction dividing screen time between the buddy banter between Cheung and Boy and the villains' gradual progress through their elaborate, ill defined evil scheme. There are memorable moments including the dead villain covered with pages from his beloved porn mags before being cremated, Cheung's taut face-off with trigger-happy Bull (Tommy Wong Kwong-Leung), an unsettling example of gory DIY surgery and Fui-On's yuppie styled bad guy practicing an extreme corporate takeover by hijacking a business meeting at gunpoint but Cheung's continuing confrontations with implacable Inspector Lo grow tiresome. At one point Lo asserts: "We are here to serve the law. We don't judge who is guilty" but proves hypocritical in his dealings with Boy and a schoolteacher falsely accused of molesting a young woman. Come the finale he proves more hindrance than help.

Chow's co-star Danny Lee proved instrumental in launching the young comedian on the path to global super-stardom, directing him in Legend of the Dragon (1990) and producing one of his most memorable comic vehicles The Magnificent Scoundrels (1991). After an eclectic early career as a contract player at Shaw Brothers where he seemed to land all the craziest lead roles e.g. Super Infra-Man (1975), Oily Maniac (1976), Battle Wizard (1977), Lee started to produce and direct his own films including Law With Two Phases (1984) which he also wrote and won the HK best actor award. His company Magnum Films co-produced and distributed innovative action-thrillers like City on Fire (1987) and John Woo's The Killer (1989) both films where he acted opposite Chow Yun-Fat, though Lee also typecast himself as a tough, uncompromising cop. His later works as a director grew rabidly right wing, endorsing rape and torture as valid methods of interrogation. In Final Justice however, Lee is a more affable sort albeit very much a stock maverick cop, impatient with rules and regulations when he has more experience in the field. There is an anti-colonial bent to the script when Cheung bitterly remarks only his poor grasp of English prevents him from rising the ranks in the HKPD, but as he rails against red tape it is an old familiar song the likes of Clint Eastwood, Maurizio Merli and Mel Gibson all sang before. The old act first, think later argument is unconvincing but entertaining, albeit only in movies.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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