Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1987: Roy Cheung in Prison on Fire

Roy Cheung did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Officer "Scar-face" Hung in Prison on Fire.

Prison on Fire is a decent, though somewhat unfocused, film about an unassuming man Lo Ka Yiu (Tony Leung Ka-fai) sentenced to a 3 year prison sentence where he befriends a fellow inmate Chung Tin Ching (Chow Yun-Fat) who helps him navigate the politics of the prison between the guards and the prisoners, especially those who are members of the Triad.

Of course what is a prison drama without at least one corrupt guard? I don't know...I'm not sure I've seen one yet. Anyway that role this time is designated to Roy Cheung as Officer "Scar-Face". That should probably be the setup for a rather over the top character, however right down to the scar on his face, Cheung is pretty low key in the role. This is to the point that he doesn't really have to much of an impact on the film for about half of it. He is occasionally there with a reaction or two, but not much more. I'll give Cheung credit though in that these reactions are at lot more interesting than they would be in lesser hands, as he portrays them with this certain observation in the eyes of Hung. He isn't just going through the motions, but rather he creates the sense of almost the Officer putting a plan into action even as he sees the new prisoners come in. This is not even as the head of the guards mind you, rather just the most "powerful" one in the prison.

Cheung effectively exudes the needed charisma to establish even without saying much. He has the right presence that creates a naturally sense of command in the man who watches, and seems to control even before any action takes place. Of course eventually the prison unrest is realized due to the Triad influence within the prison. Eventually Hung attempts to destroy any unrest through some fairly questionable means. Cheung plays his part with a considerable ease that translates to granting Hung the appropriate menace for the role. The casual manner observing the prisoners is the same as when he is talking to a snitch or making a threat. Cheung isn't one note in this rather makes this form of confidence in the man who believes he essentially rules the prison. Cheung also does add just a proper hint of sadism when he informs Ching that he's going to make him look like an informant. The certainty in his portrayal of the act, the sharpness of the delivery gives Hung the needed edge. His methods don't work though leading to a more overt riot, and more overt villainy. Cheung continues to stay true to his overall characterization as he only lightly builds the desperation in the man, that mostly reveals itself in a violent viciousness. This eventually explodes which Cheung grants a visceral sting to in a moment of brunt intensity, however even this he controls to a certain extent, fitting to Hung who has likely held his position of command for some time. This is a good performance by Roy Cheung however limited by the material. Cheung just is rather underutilized, though effective when onscreen he just isn't allowed to take Officer "Scar-face" past a certain point. 


Calvin Law said...

I liked him slightly more but I do agree on the rating. Thoughts and ratings for the two leads?

Louis Morgan said...

Fat - 4(Very charismatic turn from him, as to be expected honestly, but he really does light up the screen every point he's on the film. He brings a real energy and natural humor to his performance. He finds the right approach though in creating just enough of a edge within it, and pathos to suggest the background as well as the setting for the man.)

Leung - 2.5(He's okay at times, but mostly he's pretty forgettable here. He stands around and looks a lot. He does not do this terribly, but he's not particularly effective in this regard.)

Anonymous said...

Louis: So it looks like back in 1943, a biopic of Jack London was already made, but it wasn't good apparently. If Walsh had made his London biopic with Cagney in the role (in the 40's), who would have you cast as his two wives, the Strunsky sisters (who were members of "The Crowd"), his friend George Sterling and William Randolph Hearst, whom London had worked for as a correspondent? There are