BUFF24: Fatal Termination’s Stunts Leave Your Jaw on the Floor

“How in the world did they ever get away with that!”

Image Courtesy of Boston Underground Film Festival / Exile PR

During the Christmas season a year ago, I gifted myself my first Vinegar Syndrome subscription. Filling my 2023 with endless B-movie entertainment from robust psycho-erotic thrillers to beguiling straight-to-video actioners, these eyes have seen things they’ll never understand, and gleefully so. Some of the stuff out there from the bygone heyday of video rentals aren’t exactly beloved cinema classics, and films without major studios behind them were often left to collect dust. Rummaging through the depths of underground indies, homegrown SOV, and rarely-seen imports, you seldom find that glittering diamond in the rough you absolutely want to tell the world about. So, allow me to be excruciatingly blunt: every genre film lover needs to see Fatal Termination.

A man holds a gun under the chin of another man in Fatal Termination

Concluding the double feature kicking off opening night at the Boston Underground Film Festival as their sole repertory showing, Fatal Termination is a doozy! This 1990 classic Hong Kong crime drama starts innocuously enough as a run-of-the-mill investigatory film but crescendos to a place of chaotic batsh*t lunacy that needs to be seen to be believed. If you’re a fan of crazy stunt work, Fatal Termination will leave your jaw on the floor. Boston, prepare yourselves because, despite the film having the title of a Lifetime movie, this one is too good to miss.

When a police investigation leads hothead detective Jimmy Li (Simon Yam) to suspect customs agent Miu Chun-Fan (Kiu-Wai Miu) of weapons smuggling, Miu becomes the perfect scapegoat for his corrupt boss (Mortal Kombat’s Robin Shou) to pin his extracurriculars on. Wai Loong (Shou) fires Miu (and on his birthday of all days!), but while Miu clears out his locker, he discovers evidence exonerating him and implicating his co-workers. Before he can clear his name, though, Loong has Miu silenced. However, Miu’s sister Moon (Moon Lee) and her husband John (Ray Lui) witness the whole thing. Instantly, Moon, John, and their daughter become targets for the corrupt customs agent, then end up on the hit list of the middleman arms dealer Ko Mok-Fu (Phillip Ko) and his Middle Eastern terrorist buyers when they find a way to steal the weapons.

I had to catch my breath after screening this film ahead of the Boston Underground Film Festival. The stunts are insane! For example, one of the scenes (contained in an image on this page) features a child being held out a window by her hair while her mother clings to the hood of the car barreling through the outskirts of Hong Kong. I don’t think I blinked once during this sequence. Awestruck and hypnotized, I asked myself, “How in the world did they ever get away with that!” And while that intensity managed to express itself verbally while watching that specific scene, it wasn’t the only time I was struck with disbelief. Parking garage shootouts, hand-to-hand combat and choreography, a three-story fall onto the top of a car, and other, only slightly tamer stunts brought me back to those early ’90s John Woo and mid-90s Jackie Chan films I grew up on and continue to revisit frequently.

A woman in coveralls with a canvas bag strapped across her body holds an uzi against a blue sky
Image Courtesy of Boston Underground Film Festival / Exile PR

Don’t get me wrong, the storyline of Fatal Termination leaves a lot of head-scratching and forces us to believe Jimmy Li is so ridiculously thick-headed he couldn’t detect his way out of a cardboard box. From the start of his investigation, he’s so impressively sure of himself that he doesn’t observe Wai Loong’s one-eighty or suspect anyone else, or even multiple customs officers, of trafficking weapons. Plus, I can’t imagine a single employer has ever allowed a terminated employee, let alone a customs officer, to leave the office for a few hours only to return to collect their personal belongings unsupervised. And one suspected of smuggling guns to terrorists, no less! But that’s just how wildly fascinating the world of Fatal Termination is.

Barreling through its rigorous setup, Fatal Termination manages to remain plausible, just rough around the edges. While there are entirely too many characters that it becomes difficult to keep track of, I never found any of the absurdity tedious or audibly guffawed at any of the nonsensical moments that arose throughout the film. Instead, I found it charming. I often sat in wonderment of how the whole mess would shake out. After watching, director Yeung-Wah (Andrew) Kam’s filmography was instantly added to my watchlist. A B-movie of this magnitude, which features such a terrific ensemble and impeccable stunts, should be given the respect it deserves, and that is exactly what Error 4444 believed when they commissioned the restoration of Fatal Termination.

Presented in partnership with the American Genre Film Archive, the Boston Underground Film Festival showing of Fatal Termination marks the North American premiere of this outstanding restoration. Like the film itself, the restoration isn’t perfect. At times, I saw minor audio discrepancies and occasional quality degradations in the film. Still, this effort is clearly born of multiple sources and is being touted as the supreme “uncut” version. The Blu-Ray released by Error 4444 in 2023 contains three cuts and may include (don’t hold me to it) a more pleasing cut for high-def home viewers without the added footage segments. For me, seeing any cut of this incredible piece of rousing Hong Kong cult cinema look half as good as it does thirty-four years removed from its theatrical run is especially incredible.

A man squints his left eye as he looks through the scope of a rocket launcher in FATAL TERMINATION

I’d encourage you to purchase a Blu-ray of the film through Error 4444’s website, but literally everything appears to be sold out. So, instead, I’ll look forward to seeing you cult-loving loonies at the Brattle tonight.

Fatal Termination will be shown in the Brattle Theatre tonight, March 20, at 9:45 PM, as part of the Boston Underground Film Festival. Tickets are available through the Brattle Theatre box office. Visit Boston Underground’s website for more information.

Written by Sean Parker

Sean lives just outside of Boston. He loves great concerts, all types of movies, video games, and all things nerd culture.

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