Whenever wuxia meets horror in Hong Kong cinema, the audience is treated to action that defies American conventions in so many ways. High-flying wire work and weird fantasy elements take the center stage in Ringo Lam’s Burning Paradise, a Tsui Hark-produced historical action film that offers your classic HK set pieces with some added gore on top. Vinegar Syndrome presents the film with a good presentation considering the source and comes with a handful of supplements that expand upon Ringo Lam’s lasting legacy. Recommended!
Ringo Lam was among one of Hong Kong’s greatest exports in the 1990s. His urban thrillers, like City on Fire and School on Fire, are all about heroes up against the impossible, but he pushes the envelope further by channeling shocking violence to morph his classic, slim narratives into intensified, oppressive acts of fantasy realism. Where John Woo made fairy tales with ballets of bullets, Lam sunk viewers into just how savage heroes can be with hard-hitting action that destroys bodies.
Burning Paradise was a box office flop in China, plain and simple. Originally pitched as a remake of Temple of the Red Lotus (1965), which is itself an expansion of the 1928 Chinese silent film serial titled The Burning of the Red Lotus Temple. The plot is relatively simple, following the folk hero Fong Sai-yuk (Willie Chi) as he flees from the Manchu Government’s slaughter of Shaolin Monks during the Qing Dynasty. Fong soon gets captured and becomes interned at Red Lotus Temple, where other Shaolin practitioners are being held captive. The ruthless Kung (Wong Kam-Kong) has rigged the temple with booby traps to punish the Shaolin dissidents. Fong must rally the prisoners and stage a revolt, all the while dealing with a mysterious female masked prisoner and another Shaolin disciple who turned traitor.
The Burning of the Red Lotus Temple can be treated like a Big Bang of sorts in Chinese cinema, with its story being constantly revisited throughout the decades, though choosing a period setting and doubling down on the horror elements was a bit out of step in the 1990s. But to Ringo Lam, who was given the job by producer Tsui Hark (he was asked first), it was an opportunity for his Grand Guignol action set pieces to really take flight and emphasize his personal courtship with heroes and folklore.
Although I’ve talked up Ringo Lam quite a bit here, Burning Paradise does fall short of his best work, though I mainly attribute that to the thin story. Lam brings his usual gusto to the proceedings, but the retread here is very, very familiar. That being said, the stunt work, slickness of the action and gross-out gore moments injects some attitude into the proceedings. If you’re a martial arts action film fan at all, you’d be remiss not the see the crazy wire work on display here. Deadly spikes, poison gas and booby traps, oh my! Burning Paradise is a ton of fun despite not being Ringo Lam’s best narrative work, and it is a fascinating watch given that not many films like it have been produced since.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-rays
Both Tiger and Crane fighting styles punch hard in Burning Paradise, presented here on Blu-ray with a single-disc (BD50) release that comes housed in a clear Viva case with reversible sleeve art and an attached 12-page booklet with a critical essay by author Grady Hendrix. The Blu-ray boots up to a standard menu screen with options to play the film, set up audio, explore bonus features and select reels.
The following message appears before Burning Paradise begins: “The following presentation of Burning Paradise was sourced from a restored 2k master provided by the studio. Unfortunately, many imperfections were present in the provided master. Vinegar Syndrome restoration artists were able to fix the vast majority of these imperfections by re-restoring numerous sections of the film from the raw film scans. We hope you enjoy this brand new presentation of Burning Paradise.”
Alright, first things first: this new 1080p presentation blows away all previous DVD releases with a much more accurate color palette, better grain definition, deeper blacks and shadows, clearer face tones, etc. However, the source limitations become immediately apparent in select scenes, with some noise reduction resulting in an unnatural, waxy look. But to go back to the message from VS above, this presentation is certainly much better than what the supplied master looked like, and I’ll have to agree with that assessment despite not seeing the previous master that was most likely used on the HK Blu-ray from 2021.
Black levels look good and shadow detail is well expressed considering the source limitations. This is certainly the best the film has looked, and I appreciate the clear improvements made by the VS team.
Burning Paradise is presented with its original Cantonese soundtrack, encoded as a 2.0 DTS-HD MA track that sounds very good overall. Sound effects are balanced nicely with dialogue and music, and there doesn’t seem to be much hiss or damage to be found throughout.
Vinegar Syndrome supplies their Blu-ray release of Burning Paradise with a nice assortment of newly produced supplements, including an interview with actor Wong Kam Kong that was conducted virtually. The actor details his relationship with Ringo Lam, who he details as a very smart man with a wicked sense of humor. He also talks about how he had to do all of his students partially because none of the stunt doubles were tall enough to stand in for him.
While Burning Paradise is far from the greatest showcase of Ringo Lam’s talents, this new Blu-ray release from Vinegar Syndrome presents the film better than it’s ever looked before and has some supplements to enjoy. Recommended!