Sunday, 24 July 2011

Dangerous Encounter - 1st Kind

Tsui Hark's film from 1980 remains a high water mark of the Hong Kong New Wave, an extraordinary action thriller so unruly and anarchic that Hark was forced by the British Colonial Government to revise the film, diluting some of it's political subtext. For many years this original version was thought lost, but in 2004 the film was remastered for a French DVD release with the censored material imported from a poor quality VHS source - this is the version under review.

Japanese VHS sleeve featuring the international title Don't Play With Fire
In the film, three high school boys with a taste for making mischief using homemade explosives forge an uneasy alliance with a teenage girl who harbors a death wish and gets her kicks from torturing small animals. After catching the boys rigging a bomb in a cinema, she blackmails the amateur terrorists into taking part in increasingly crazed pranks. But trouble looms when the gang of four steal a package of Japanese bank bonds from some US arms dealers - and they mean to get them back...

Dangerous Encounter - 1st Kind with its brutal nihilistic violence, teenage angst, caustic political commentary and whiplash action is so volatile a mix, the celluloid itself seems in danger of catching fire as it runs through the projector gate. Hark's vision of Hong Kong is relentlessly grim and unglamourous - an overcrowded society driven by money and inflamed by triad violence. His view of foreigners is especially abrasive and Hong Kong is seemingly infiltrated with them at every level, from the chief of police to the US mercenaries doing business with the Japanese on Chinese soil, and even some Americans spreading the Mormon message.

Feeding off all this are Hong Kong's sociopathic youth. For the 3 high schoolers, their interest in urban guerrilla warfare seems little more than thrill seeking but Pearl, the gang's de facto female leader and self-destructing dark star at the heart of the film, is clearly unhinged, seen torturing mice by sticking pins through their brains for a slow agonizing death, and throwing a cat out of a window to land tangled up on a barbed wire fence. She's a formidable presence in the film, taking on the triads and the mercenaries with ruthless determination. Her awkward relationship with the three boys, the shrinking violets of the story, remains one of the most interesting aspects of the film.

Dangerous Encounter - 1st Kind is made with such verve and energy it could fuel a dozen films, and Hark manages to balance the socio-political concerns of the story with a distinct atmosphere of unreality, similar in feel to A Clockwork Orange or Jean-Jacques Beineix's Diva. One can imagine the film leaving a deep impression on Takashi Miike. There's also the wonderful hit and run soundtrack, which samples some of Goblin's music from Dawn of the Dead, and featuring entirely unexpected appearances from Jean-Michel Jarre's Oxygène, and the opening submarine pings from Pink Floyd's long form epic Echoes.

The French DVD of Dangerous Encounter - 1st Kind is available in a 3-film Tsui Hark boxset that sadly contains no English subtitles - luckily the copy I have was tweaked to include some English-language fansubs. The transfer of the film is generally excellent, the 2.35 image looks fresh, vibrant and sharp. The scenes culled from the VHS source - see below, are very tatty - but watchable and not extensive, and worth remembering that this may be the only way to see the film as originally planned...


  1. Great review Wes, I haven't seen the version you review here. It must be around ten years since I saw the film last but it has certainly stayed with me. Still to this day, one of the most incendiary films I've ever seen.

  2. Thanks Mart... Yep, it's a great movie - after watching it you have to wonder why all movies aren't made like this... I had a bit of a dilemma about the actual title of the film - I know the film for years under the Intervision VHS title Don't Play With Fire, but there seems to be some minor variations on the Dangerous Encounter title - I've seen it reported as Dangerous Encounters of the First Kind, and Dangerous Encounters - 1st Kind. I deferred to the title on the actual print - under the cantonese title it says Dangerous Encounter - 1st Kind

  3. I had that Intervision tape Wes, some bastard borrowed it and I never got it back!

  4. Ah that's a shame, it's one of Intervision's more collectible tapes I hear...

  5. Yeah, I've been trying to get round to getting my hands on this for a while. I love both 'Butterfly Murders' and 'We're Going to Eat You', so should get round to seeing the film which sits between them...


    Rar Password: None

    Xvid DVD-Rip with english SRT-subs.

  7. Hi, lovin' your blog

    come pay a visit sometime

    id love to hear your thoughts

  8. Excellent Wes, I'll pop them into Mipony when I get home from work...

  9. Many thanks Hence72, the comment is much appreciated !

    Dan, enjoy !

  10. I remember Tsui Hark being featured on The Incredibly Strange Film Show - but that was at a time when getting your mitts on foreign movies was hit or miss at best. I've still not caught up with his work - but I would like to one day.

  11. Yeah, me too, Tsui Hark is not a film maker I'm at all familiar with - I mean I know some of his breakout films by name - The Butterfly Murders, Zu Warriors from the Magic Mountain, A Chinese Ghost Story, Once Upon a Time in China, all of which I'd love to see. A friend of mine told me his 1998 American film Knock-Off starring Jean-Claude Van Damme and about counterfeit jeans (?) is quite simply terrible...