THE BIG HEAT (1988) is a fast-paced, gritty, down-and-dirty crime thriller shot in the streets and urban spaces of Hong Kong as it follows a group of cops in a life-or-death struggle with a gang of thugs employed by a corrupt businessman doing some high-level smuggling. Every scene is pitched around a confrontation that leads in every case to a shootout, car chase, foot chase, explosion or attempted assassination. Although none of the action scenes boasts the spectacle of a John Woo thriller (HARD-BOILED, THE KILLER), the action is consistently exciting, well-crafted, suspenseful and, up until the final showdown, fairly believable. One superb setpiece involves a face-off between the cops and an assassin in a hospital elevator shaft that serves as a model of how to stage action scenes in tight spaces.
The film was co-directed by Andrew Kam and Johnny To and produced by Tsui Hark. It was part of a wave of top-ranked HK urban thrillers led by Woo's A BETTER TOMORROW (also produced by Hark) and Ringo Lam's CITY ON FIRE. The cast of THE BIG HEAT includes Waise Lee (A BULLET IN THE HEAD), Joey Wong (A CHINESE GHOST STORY), Chu Kong (THE KILLER) and, in an ingenious bit of casting, Philip Kwok, formerly one of Shaw Bros.' FIVE DEADLY VENOMS, who, in the interest of greater realism here, refrains from kung fu, but does his share of shooting, punching, running, leaping, and driving at high speeds. The film features much brutal violence, with some particularly gruesome bits (as in that hospital elevator scene). But if you're a fan of hard-edged crime thrillers, this film is for you.