Comparison between the censored Hongkong laserdisc of Golden Cinema City and the uncensored version on the US VHS of Tai Seng
25 Deviations, thereof
* 12 cuts
* 11 plain audio censorships
* 1 re-cut
* 1 scenes with alternative material
Difference: 74.3 sec (= 1:14 min)
A few small additional jumpcuts under 0.5 sec in the US VHS were not listed in the cut report.
Censorship history of Ringo Lam's SCHOOL ON FIRE
Before he directed several films with Van Damme, director Ringo Lam was responsible in Asia for City on Fire with Chow Yun-Fat, for which it is known that Quentin Tarantino based his debut Reservoir Dogs on. Lam directed two other films with similar "...on Fire" titles, which deal with social grievances in their respective milieus. Prison on Fire, which also features Yun-Fat, shows clashes in prison, while the film School on Fire focuses on triad crimes in schools.
School on Fire has already been massively censored in Hong Kong at an early stage. This did not only concern the violence, but especially various scenes with obscene dialogues, gambling, drugs, corruption or other criminal activities. All previous home cinema releases in Hongkong had such cuts (and even several newly recorded dialogues only on the soundtrack). Strangely enough, the US-VHS from the label Tai Seng again came up with a much longer version, which seems to contain Lam's original vision before it suffered from the HK censorship.
We have already documented the differences in the corresponding cut report. Here we also dealt with small differences between the releases on laserdisc and DVD (Joy Sales) in Hong Kong, which are in principle censored at the same spots.
The Blu-ray premiere in Hongkong
At the end of the year (postponed several times, the 27 December 2019 was probably its final street date) a Blu-ray was surprisingly released in Hongkong. At the beginning some shops listed it with a Chinese note, which could roughly be translated as "Uncut: The Original Director's Version". However, this was then removed and upon contacting the distributor, a Blu-ray.com user received an answer, stating "it's a special version of the movie, and something for fans to look forward to".
In fact, the HD version is at least significantly longer than all previous Asian releases, for which we already had a report. But unfortunately it's not uncut either, there are still some cuts from back then. Especially some dialogue moments or more harmless fight scenes from the finale can be seen again, but the most violent shots are still missing. Also all presumed audio censorships or, in case of the same footage, newly recorded dialogues are unfortunately to be objected.
All in all not a really satisfying release, although it has slightly better image quality and features a less heavily censored version. By the way, don't be confused by the runtimes. The Blu-ray is almost as long as the Tai Seng VHS (103:48 min NTSC) and it was generously rounded to 104 minutes on the cover and in shops. But this is due to several logos at the beginning and at the end. Besides that the old Joy Sales DVD was in PAL speed and therefore it ran only 97 minutes while the almost identical laserdisc in NTSC was 101 minutes long.
Timecodes follow the scheme
Hongkong Blu-ray / US-VHS in NTSC
Thanks to Mr. Odessa of the Blu-ray.com forum we could add some explanations on audio censorship as he provided more accurate translations.
The Blu-ray has the Fortune Star logo to start with.
+ 37 sec
02:04-02:18 / 01:27-01:41
First scene at school: A boy excitedly talks about his sexual experiences. The footage is also available on the HK-LD, but you can no longer hear his words and the corresponding subtitles have been removed - because of the latter one could (in contrast to later tone censorships) still illustrate the HK-LD for comparison, but it was limited to the uncensored footage of the VHS.
07:21 / 06:45-06:51
Lam takes out another knife and runs after Brother Scar.
A more suitable translation of his threat would be "You motherfuckers think I'm a joke?"
07:35 / 07:05-07:14
When Lam kicks he hits a woman instead of Brother Scar, who immediately rolls down the stairs. Her daughter whimpers and Lam continues to attack.
11:27-11:30 / 11:06-11:09
A sentence at the table was newly recorded here. The subtitles between LD and US-VHS are unfortunately identical, mentioning "chop him". On DVD there is talk of "just kill him" but apparently the actual reason for this change was that he said "kill the motherfucker" in the original version.
11:46 / 11:25
After the tea has been served, the dub deviates slightly again. Again the same subtitles on LD/VHS. As a more accurate translation Smart Guy says something about the new underworld not bothering with worthless traditions in the original version.
12:16-12:18 / 11:55-11:57
When the guy comes to the table and points to the approaching police, the sentence was newly recorded. It's a more offensive slang word in the original version, similar to "pigs".
13:11-13:14 / 12:50-12:53
Another different sentence as Brother Smart mentions "Red Pocket". Once again the Cantonese equivalent of the word "motherfucker" was the reason for overdubbing here.
A few seconds later the word "red pocket" is mentioned again.
23:36-23:38 / 23:15-23:17
When George and Wan clash, the sentence of the former was re-recorded. In the original version he says "Fuck you!"
23:47-23:49 / 23:26-23:28
Same thing shortly afterwards, when George explains himself to the security officer. As this guy is on Smart Guy's payroll, he threatens to "go over his head" in the original version (referring to the higher authorities). This was weakened a bit by just saying "report him" now.
28:10 / 27:49-28:05
More scenes from the card game. You can see here how they process drugs and meanwhile there is talk of a recent police control. One of them had to swallow all the packages, which gave him diarrhoea.
37:51-37:53 / 37:46-37:48
Lung responds differently to the girl's request for a dance. Sadly, both version are subtitled with "Bullshit!" but in the original it's actually once again "Motherfucker!"
63:37-63:39 / 63:31-63:33
During the police inspection in the bar, one of the sentences was overdubbed here. It's probably about triad slang, respectively the "viewer" mentioned in the subtitles means a member.
63:57-63:59 / 63:51-63:53
Redubbing again shortly afterwards, again whilst talking about a "viewer".
73:18-73:23 / 73:11-73:16
Again a plain audio censorship, where it becomes more interesting in comparing the subtitles on further releases. The Hongkong Blu-ray and US VHS let George say "Couldn't care what you say!" here, although the sentence itself was clearly re-recorded. On the Hongkong laserdisc (with the same re-recorded sentence as on the Blu-ray) one can read "Still grasping your last chance to bullshit" instead.
According to a YouTube video about the film's censorship, which has unfortunately been deleted in the meantime, the original sentence should say "What's your fucking problem?". So this could be the more accurate translation compared to the harmless sounding "Couldn't care what you say".
74:17 / 74:10-74:15
Another pan shot through the classroom, where you see the students beating each other.
82:09 / 82:07-82:08
The shot starts earlier, so there are more stabs in Man-Hung's stomach.
95:21 / 95:19-95:21
More stabbing on the stairs.
95:22 / 95:22-95:25
The next shot of this also starts much earlier.
96:23 / 96:26-96:29
Smart and co run back inside with their machetes. The policemen intervene and put two henchmen out of action.
96:27-96:28 / 96:33-96:36
All HK versions now reinsert the short end of previous shot, showing the arrest of the two henchmen (not illustrated again). On the US VHS you instead see Smart and co running through the room longer. The bloodstained back thanks to punctures may have been the reason for cutting this moment.
US-VHS 1.6 sec longer
99:51 / 99:59-100:00
Smart tears down Chu's top and also yells "motherfucker" in this moment.
Strangely enough, however, this cut comes about 1.5 seconds earlier than in the old HK version. Here it is a striking jumpcut in the middle and the end of the shot is present again.
99:55 / 100:04-100:23
Smart tears open the panties, wipes off some blood and throws them over to Scar. He talks about raping Chu and opens his bow tie while Scar whimpers. Once again, "motherfucker" can be heard during this scene.
100:39-100:47 / 101:07-101:21
On the Blu-ray (as in previous Hongkong releases) the image freezes for ~ 2 sec at the last frame of the falling smart. After that you see a first long shot of the injured people being carried away.
The US-VHS, on the other hand, shows the effect in further shots: Smart lands on the grid and dies. His blood runs down to the sign of the school.
US-VHS 6.5 sec longer
103:15-103:23 / 103:48
The Blu-ray has a reference to Fortune Star at the very end.
Not included in cut duration/amount.
+ 8.5 sec