APES ON FILM: Just Another Day in Kung Fu Paradise

Lucas Hardwick
Contributing Writer


Welcome to Apes on Film! This column exists to scratch your retro-film-in-high-definition itch. We’ll be reviewing new releases of vintage cinema and television on disc of all genres, finding gems and letting you know the skinny on what to avoid. Here at Apes on Film, our aim is to uncover the best in retro film. As we dig for artifacts, we’ll do our best not to bury our reputation. What will we find out here? Our destiny.


4 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Willie Chi, Carman Lee, John Ching, Kuei Li, Chun Lam, Kam-Kong Wong, Yamson Domingo
Director: Ringo Lam
Rated: Not Rated
Studio: Eureka Entertainment
Region: B
BRD Release Date: May 29, 2023
Audio Formats: Cantonese: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono (48kHz, 24-bit)
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC (34.90 Mbps)
Resolution: 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Run Time: 105 minutes



The burning of the Shaolin temple is the best thing to ever happen to Chinese filmmaking. The historic rivalry of the Kung Fu practicing monks against the Qing dynasty is the gift that keeps on giving, blessing the world with a legacy of films loaded with martial arts-packed action. Kung Fu films are a staple of genre cinema, at times of varying degrees of quality, but rarely are they ever not entertaining.

Ringo Lam’s 1994 film BURNING PARADISE is yet another notch in the belt of Kung Fu’s cinematic tradition, once again taking advantage of the fateful clash of cultures within Chinese history.

After Shaolin disciple Fong Sai-yuk (Willie Chi) and his master Chi Nun (Wu Xi-qian) are attacked by a regiment of Qing soldiers, the two men find refuge with the prostitute Dau Dau (Carman Lee). Chi Nun is killed in a second attack by the Qing army, and Fong and Dau Dau are taken as prisoners to the Red Lotus Temple where dozens of Shaolin monks are held captive by the deranged Elder Kung (Kam-Kong Wong), a former Qing general. Kung keeps Dau Dau as one of his concubines while Fong is left for dead in a cavern of corpses. Dau Dau bargains for Fong’s freedom who is soon forced to a duel with one of Kung’s men, a former fellow Shaolin monk. From this point on, escape from the heavily armed and booby-trapped fortress is the name of the game as Kung reveals his depravity every step of the way.

BURNING PARADISE quickly becomes a simple action-packed story of exodus and rescue, and doesn’t do much to deepen the fabled conflict of good versus evil beyond the usual notions of bad guys do bad things, and good guys are left to clean up the mess. The magnificent martial arts duel in the desert that kicks off the film gives an allusion of a sweeping Chinese epic, but the film quickly becomes confined to the claustrophobic environs of the elaborate set-bound caves of the Red Lotus Temple.

Any narrative dynamic of the film arises from the development of the characters who become more interesting in the face of adversity as new allegiances are revealed as the story progresses. But the notion of “good” has a narrative ceiling, and those who align themselves as protagonists get there and stay there. The film doesn’t take itself too seriously, imbuing it’s characters with good-natured but terrible humor loaded with groan-worthy one-liners.

The action, on the other hand, never stops and ranges from sensational swordplay and flying guillotines to deadly paint splatter that hits like shotgun blasts. Plenty of bodily bi-section and decapitation will keep mutant gore-monger audiences thrilled throughout the film. However, the final kills involving the big baddies are a little disappointing, likely because the most exciting attacks are used up in the rest of the movie’s non-stop action.

BURNING PARADISE is Ringo Lam’s first and only martial arts film. The director was typically known for making more modern crime-based movies and was recommended to direct BURNING PARADISE by the film’s producer, the celebrated martial arts filmmaker Tsui Hark. Actor Willie Chi was primed to be the next Jet Li after taking over Jackie Chan’s role in his next film DRUNKEN MASTER III, and is perfect as the best of good guys in BURNING PARADISE, but only went on to make three more films. The movie, considered a flop upon release, raked in just under two million Hong Kong dollars in 1994. But like many cult films, BURNING PARADISE found its audience through home video.

Eureka Entertainment presents BURNING PARADISE in a beautiful high-definition Blu-ray release, with vibrant colors and excellent sound. The disc contains few, but quality, features, the highlight being a robust commentary by Asian film expert Frank Djeng. Other features include a short archival interview with producer Tsui Hark and the film’s original theatrical trailer. Eureka’s limited edition offers a booklet written by film critic James Oliver and a lively slipcover with exclusive new art.

The Kung Fu film can hardly be considered dynamic storytelling, but filmmakers continue to get plenty of milage out of the genre. BURNING PARADISE may not offer anything particularly unique beyond pure entertainment but it is a no-pressure flick that’s an absolute joy of rich characters and electrifying action that would be fun transposed onto certain more contemporary western franchises (I’m talking to you, STAR WARS). Highly recommended.



When he’s not working as a Sasquatch stand-in for sleazy European films, Lucas Hardwick spends time writing film essays and reviews for We Belong Dead and Screem magazines. Lucas also enjoys writing horror shorts and has earned Quarterfinalist status in the Killer Shorts and HorrOrigins screenwriting contests. You can find Lucas’ shorts on Coverfly.

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