Review for Burning Paradise
Sometimes I can have my expectations distorted. Burning Paradise is one of those unsolicited check discs that show up from time to time, demanding my attention. Front and centre on the press release from Eureka Entertainment is “Ringo Lam’s gothic horror infused martial arts epic”. Now given that I have just devoted a couple of weeks to Eureka Entertainment’s Hopping Mad Mr Vampire sequels, I have become accustomed to that particular flavour of martial arts horror, albeit with a healthy dose of comedy. I wasn’t immediately looking forward to more, so it is with some reluctance that I sit down to take in Burning Paradise.
The Manchu rulers of China want to maintain an iron grip over the populace, and any hint of rebellion or free thinking is a threat to that. The martial arts teachings of the Shaolin Temple are a case in point, so the Temple is sacked, its leaders executed, and anyone professing to be a Shaolin monk is relentlessly hunted down.
That’s where we find Fong Sai Yuk, running for his life along with his uncle, with Manchu soldiers dogging their heels. They think they have gotten away, when they encounter a runaway prostitute named Dau Dau as they hide out in an abandoned house. But the soldiers quickly find them, and Fong Sai Yuk and Dau Dau are captured and taken to the Red Lotus Temple to be put to work as slaves. But this could be the chance that Fong Sai Yuk has been looking for, searching for the last Shaolin Master, he finds many of his brethren are captives of the evil Elder Kung. But his Shaolin teachings may not be enough to defeat the Manchu and Kung, especially when his brother Hong Xiguan has turned traitor and is now serving Kung instead.
Burning Paradise gets 1.85:1 widescreen 1080p transfer, with PCM 2.0 Cantonese Mono audio and an optional English subtitle track. It has that later film stock that came in the late eighties and followed over through the nineties (this film dates from 1994), which tends to look a little flat and muted in comparison to earlier Hong Kong films. Having said all that, the image is clear and sharp enough, detail levels are strong, and colours are consistent. There is no sign of print damage or age, and the action comes across without issue. It’s an 18 rated film with plenty of gory effects, and the Blu-ray presentation might serve to mitigate that with its clarity, with some very plastic looking swords, and cheerful visual effects. The audio is fine, clear and rich enough to appreciate even with the mono presentation. The subtitles are accurately timed and are free of typos. Incidentally there’s more than a hint of Ennio Morricone in the theme tune.
The disc boots to a static menu page where you will find the following extras.
Audio commentary with Frank Djeng
Tsui Hark Interview [archival] (4:29)
Original Theatrical Trailer (2:50)
There is also a 20-page booklet with the first run release of the Blu-ray with writing from James Oliver, along with special o-card packaging.
Well, that certainly got my attention. This is about as far away from hopping vampires as you can get. Burning Paradise is an interesting descent into psychological horror, all wrapped up in a wuxia kung fu straitjacket. It derives its horror elements with a perverse twisting of spirituality to contrast with the supposedly devout Shaolin protagonists. Although the film begins with the expected dose of humour, with Fong Sai Yuk and his uncle encountering the prostitute Dau Dau, and having their celibacy tested in close quarters, as the film progresses, those moments of humour become more and more out of place as the film gets darker and darker.
To put it simply, Burning Paradise is a cross between Apocalypse Now, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and Saw. When Fong Sai Yuk is captured and brought before Elder Kung and his minions, it’s at a subterranean temple where they worship a twisted hedonistic mirror of Buddhism. The leader of the Manchu soldiers, Elder Kung has been on this Shaolin hunt so long that he’s become completely twisted by it, and a prisoner to his own desires. He has his harem, to which Dau Dau becomes the latest recruit, and the hordes of Shaolin monk prisoners serve as slaves at his whim. Life is cheap, even among his own minions.
The Red Lotus Temple is consequently a charnel house of abused prisoners, scattered corpses, and body parts littering the place, or turned into shrines. Fong Sai Yuk’s first attempt to confront Kung ends badly, and it’s only by Dau Dau acquiescing to Kung’s depravities that his life is spared. In the middle of all that carnage, he finds the last Shaolin master in hiding, and determines to rescue him and his fellow prisoners. But that’s made all the more difficult with the traitor Hong Xiguan standing in his way. It does look as if Hong is tormented by his betrayal, but he’s also got something going on with Kung’s right hand woman.
So you have Elder Kung channelling Colonel Kurtz, in the kind of subterranean temple where a twisted Buddha sits where a statue of Kali should be, and prisoners are put to work as slaves, and around every corner is a fiendish and fatal trap. With it all is the kind of flying wire-fu wuxia that usually puts me off, but in this context it actually works. It’s a bizarre but curiously appealing mish-mash of a film that best serves as a post-pub and kebab entertainment.
Eureka Entertainment give the film the usual quality presentation you would expect, but given how the film fared in the Hong Kong box office according the booklet, it isn’t so surprising that the disc is so comparatively light on extra features.
You can buy Burning Paradise direct from Eureka, also from Terracotta, and mainstream retailers.