School on Fire

School on Fire ★★★★

Goddamn! Ringo Lam does not fuck around. School on Fire is a banshee wail of bagpipes and despair, as HK’s authorities - teachers, cops, parents, senior gang members - keep failing schoolgirl Chu Yuen (Fennie Yuen) as she spirals deeper into the world of triads. 

I’ve been wanting to watch this for almost two decades, ever since seeing some stills in a book on HK cinema, and it exceeded my expectations. I really enjoy City on Fire and the Prison on Fire films, but they are fundamentally star vehicles for Chow Yun-Fat, full of glamor and memorable turns. Here, while Yuen is the central figure around which the plot pivots, there’s no real star - just tragic and horrific figures ricocheting off each other until stresses are released in a blistering cri de coeur against society.

That said, Roy Cheung is excellent as the smarmy, amoral gang boss and Sarah Lee Lai-Yu is deserving of her accolades as Chu’s more streetwise best friend. Fennie Yuen is also very good as the initially diffident Chu Yuen - I bought into every step of her story - as are Lam Ching-Ying and Damian Lau as well-meaning cop and teacher. Just top notch ego-less work all around - I think this has just rocketed to my top 2 or 3 Lam films.

HK cinema fans, you owe it to yourself to watch this.

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