Curiosity of the Week

By Marc Bernardin
Updated July 20, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT

Name that movie: A jewel heist, planned down to the letter, goes awry. Apparently someone tipped off the police. The armed robbers are forced to blast their way out, and one gets shot in the stomach. Convening at the predetermined rendezvous — an abandoned warehouse — the bandits argue about who could be the mole. It turns out, much to the horror of the cool-headed shades-wearing veteran hood among them, that the gut-shot new guy is an undercover cop.

If you said Reservoir Dogs, you’d be right. But you’d also be correct if you think it’s City on Fire, which was made five years earlier than Dogs and is now available for the first time in a non-bootleg format. Hong Kong film buffs have long alleged that former video-store geek Quentin Tarantino took a page or two from director Ringo Lam’s playbook — and the plot similarities do make a rather convincing case. Aside from the controversy, though, City on Fire is actually a pretty tepid cops-and-robbers-and-lots-of-male-bonding movie (all of that good heist stuff happens in the final half hour) — noteworthy only for the teaming of Chow and Lee, who would later costar in John Woo’s seminal pistol-fest The Killer.