Dante Lam is one of those directors who profited wisely from Hong Kong's cinema collapse during the mid-90's. After Hong Kong's martial arts empire imploded a second time, history was set to repeat itself. Through the likes of Johnnie To, Wai-Keung Lau and Dante Lam himself, cop and crime thrillers came back into fashion after a short hype in the late 80's, signalling the rebirth of Hong Kong cinema in the early 00's.
The late 90's were ripe with opportunities for aspiring directors and Lam jumped on the bandwagon. I've yet to see Lam's first film G4 Te Gong [Option Zero], but Yeshou Xingjing [Beast Cops] is a good example of where Hong Kong action cinema would be going. Under the wings of Gordon Chan Lam manifested himself as a director with vision and style, delivering a fun and edgy cop thriller that laid the groundwork for many to come. Next up for Lam was Kong Woo Giu Gap [Jiang Hu: The Triad Zone], which turned out to be another hit, only now focused more on the Triads instead of the police force. Lam's future looked rosy and it seemed he was well on his way to becoming one of Hong Kong's greats. And he'd get there eventually, just not right away.
The early 00's saw a few detours for Lam's career. He didn't stop making action films, though Chung Chong Ging Chaat [Hit Team] and Chung Fung Hum Jun [Heat Team] didn't really live up to the bar Lam had set with his early films. At the same time Lam's focus started to shift to comedy and romance for a while. That may have been a commercial success, but films like Luen Ching Go Gup [Love on the Rocks], Luen Oi Hang Sing [Tiramisu] and Chow Tau Yau Liu [Runaway] just highlighted Lam's shortcomings when working in other genres.
Things did pick up mid 00's. With an action/comedy and two animation features under his belt Lam still hadn't arrived where he needed to be, but he seemed to have learned from earlier efforts, using that new-found knowledge to make him a better overall director. In 2008 he committed to Ching Yan [The Beast Stalker], the film that finally put him back on track. A raw, gritty and entertaining cop flick that kick-started a series of vintage Lam action films.
This quality streak would last Lam about 4 years. Jik Zin [The Viral Factor], Sin Yan [The Stool Pigeon] and Sun Cheung Sau [Sniper] are all great action flicks, For Lung [Fire of Conscience] is the one that stands out and captures all of Lam's qualities in one film. It's a prime example of stylish looking Hong Kong action cinema that falls somewhere in between the work of Johnnie To and Wai-Keung Lau.
It's a shame Lam suffered another setback after that. Mo Jing [The Demon Within] is still a pretty good film, but Ji Zhan [Unbeatable] was a little disappointing and Po Feng [To the Fore] is a downright disaster. It's understandable that Lam is looking for something different, but a sports film about cycling is clearly not something he was cut out to make. Hopefully this is just another phase and he'll return as an even better version of himself. Dante Lam has a lot of talent, but it's mostly centered around directing action cinema. When he diverts from that, the result isn't always pretty.
Best film: For Lung [Fire of Conscience] (4.0*)
Worst film: Luen Oi Hang Sing [Tiramisu] (1.5*)
Reviewed films: For Lung
Average rating: 3.05 (out of 5)