Burning Paradise: ”Heaven on Earth. Buddha is enjoying Hell.”

Year:1994
Directed by Ringo Lam
Produced by Tsui Hark
Written by Nam Yin and Wong Wan-Choi
Cast: Willie Chi, Carman Lee, Wong Kam-Kong, Yeung Sing, Maggie Lam Chuen, John Ching Tung, Yuen Gam-Fai, Ng Hey-Sin, Lee Chi,
and Chris Lee Kin-Sang

A group of Shaolin Monks must escape a death-dealing dungeon. One heroic Shaolin by the name of Fong Sai-Yuk vows to lead his fellow Shaolin monks out of the dungeon and while saving his love interest.

Ringo Lam is known often for producing crime thrillers so Burning Paradise is quite the outlier in his filmography. Yet, the sensibility isn’t so far removed from Ringo Lam’s typical repertoire. As the Red Lotus Temple exudes a morbid atmosphere and striking pessimism, it’s a death trap of the highest proportion. The Red Lotus Temple makes a mockery of Buddhist ideals as the temple is Elder Kung’s warped version of paradise. Paradise has indeed been lost in the Red Lotus Temple. Sadistic pleasure or sexual pleasure is mere moments away for Elder Kung. All manners of traps exist in this dungeon. Burning Paradise’s set designs and visual look deserve a mention in fomenting such a morbid ambiance.

Burning Paradise’s doom and gloom is surprisingly toned down by its martial arts extravaganza. The sense of hope is never lost as Fong Sai-Yuk’s bravado is galvanizing because he proves with enough martial prowess no death trap is too much. So, intentional or not, Burning Paradise’s doom and gloom reeks of the same morbid swashbuckling fun that was found in Tsui Hark’s We’re Going To Eat You. Burning Paradise’s pessimism has a satirical edge which is uncharacteristic for Ringo Lam. The finale not only features a great choreographed fight but a thrilling exodus amidst all of the chaos. The pacing is so tight the thin character development and the tacked on romance is somehow excusable.

Burning Paradise is a prison break film of the morbid flavor that maintains a swashbuckling fun in the face of a setting that features almost a literal hell. Its tonal inconsistency rather than a flaw, act as an analogy to its conflicting themes of cruel nihilism and heroic humanism.

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