Re: RARA-AVIS: theft

Mark Sullivan (
Thu, 22 Apr 1999 13:02:13 -0400 (EDT) "The poet runs no risk of copying. It is through the extent of his
failure to do so that he expresses himself." -- Jean Cocteau

I've never had a particular problem with stealing, as long as there is
good taste in what is stolen and it is used well in its new context.
(I'll leave aside the whole Borges/Pierre Menard debate over whether one
author really could recreate what another had written.)

This reminds me of the controversy over Quentin Tarantino's films. Now,
even his fans (of which I am one) openly acknowledge that there are few,
if any, original shots in Tarantino's films, that his artform is
collage, collecting images from hundreds of different films and
intercutting them into something new; part of the fun is catching the
references. However, some have claimed he went even further with
Reservoir Dogs, that it was a wholesale rip-off of Ringo Lam's City on
Fire. There was even a short film made about it, titled something like,
Who Do You Think You're Fooling? which juxtaposes images from the two
films in an attempt to discredit Tarantino. I haven't seen that short
yet, but I would imagine it looks pretty damning, there are numerous
repeated shots and storylines, just enough to fill a short film.
However, the long films are very different.

As I said, I'm a fan; I've seen Reservoir Dogs uncounted times and trade
sighted minutia with friends (did you ever notice what is under the
plastic sheets in the warehouse? Coffins, each a different color, just
like the thieves names). So when I heard about the accusation I ordered
a copy of City on Fire. I'd seen a number of Hong Kong films, but not
this one. It stars Chow Yun-Fat as an undercover cop infiltrating a
gang planning a jewelry heist; it is mostly about his torn loyalties
between a corrupt police bureaucracy and his criminal partners, one in
particular who becomes a good friend. Although there is a very brief
bit in the opening heist that appears in Reservoir Dogs, I kept waiting
for the commonalities. They didn't come until the last ten minutes, the
heist and aftermath in a warehouse ending in a three-way standoff.

City on Fire shows the heist, Reservoir Dogs doesn't. Tarantino's film
is concerned with the aftermath; Ringo Lam's is about the planning and
preparation. Sure, Tarantino stole his plot outline from the film, even
admits to having the movie poster on his wall, but he did something
completely different with it. I saw one interview in which they asked
Ringo Lam his opinion. He had no problem with it, saw that they were
very different movies (plus he had to be aware that the controversy
promoted more sales of his film). And he shouldn't have a problem,
Tarantino stole no more from him than he, and Hong Kong films in
general, have stolen from US films.


ps -- As far as Ringo Lam goes, judge him by his great HK films
(especially Full Contact), not the awful Maximum Risk he wrestled over
with Van Damme; remember, John Woo's first US film was also a bad Van
Damme film, Hard Target.

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