Full Alert was made after Ringo Lam dipped his toes into Hollywood filmmaking with the Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicle Maximum Risk. American financers seemed to think that Hong Kong directors couldn’t work with “real actors” and always at least initially teamed them up with the Muscles from Brussels—although to Van Damme’s credit, he has more charisma than his rival Dolph Lundgren. Lam certainly learned from that experience, and merged the Hong Kong cinema he helped to usher in with John Woo with a heavy influence from contemporary American crime cinema, especially Michael Mann’s films.
Lau Ching-wan plays perfectionist, workaholic policeman Pao, who finds himself up against the master bomb expert and thief Mak Kwan (Francis Ng). Kwan is planning a daring heist at the local Jockey Club. It’s clichéd to its core, but Ringo Lam pulls out all the stops, and despite the fact that the film cover well-trodden ground, he elevates it through pure cinematic style. The action setpieces, and particularly the car chases, would impress William Friedkin, and it has a no-bullshit threadbare story like To Live and Die in L.A. The chases were reportedly shot without a filming permit, much like The French Connection, which gives them a real authenticity.
The mechanics of the robbery is clearly influence by Michael Mann’s first and still best film, Thief. The ending of the film is pure nihilism, delivering quite a shocking climax that shall not be spoiled. In the end, the film may just be the cop vs. criminal story about how they are two sides of the same coin, which we’ve seen a million times, but Lam’s command of the action hasn’t diminished one bit. It may be even better than his most famous film, City on Fire, as it has a more serious atmosphere that Full Alert benefits from, instead of the occasional tonal inconsistencies in City on Fire.
The Blu-Ray release from Eureka includes two commentary tracks. The first one is from Asian film expert Frank Djeng (NY Asian Film Festival) and the second is from Ringo Lam. The other two extras on the disc are a new interview with composer Peter Lam and the film’s theatrical trailer. The first 2000 copies include a booklet with an essay from David West of NEO Magazine, which is a British magazine about East Asian entertainment.