While the plot makes sense on a basic level, there is something askew about the progression of events. Wealthy Paul and his two lower-class friends -hothead Ah-Lun and practical Ah-Kao- go for an illegal nighttime drive in the car of Paul's father, and run over a man. Before they speed away, their crime is witnessed by Pearl, a teenage girl who exists in a state of perpetual agitation. Recently released from reform school, stuck in a cluttered high rise apartment with her older brother, a cheery, hard-drinking cop, Pearl seizes the opportunity, and blackmails the boys into participating in her lopsided crimes. Their criminal career seemingly doomed thanks to bad luck and their own ineptness, their fortune turns around when Pearl steals a box full of Japanese bank notes. As the foursome tangle with a rather surreal triad gang in their efforts to cash the notes, they are stalked by the owners of the money: a gang of heavily armed, demented Vietnam vets turned drug dealers.
Less a straight-ahead narrative than a mosaic of plot fragments and narrative detours, Les Inrockuptibles memorably described Don't Play With Fire as moving forward by a series of accelerations rather than a linear plot, the expository equivalent of a jump cut. One band of villains is suddenly replaced by another, characters whose traits seem set in stone suddenly reveal new facets, main protagonists are dispatched well before the end. There is an air of improvisation, of a tall tale being told, as if Tsui and screenwriter Szeto Chuek-hon expanded on and embellished the basic scenario on a daily basis, trying to best one another with the most startling twist of the plot, the most unexpected transformation of character, until the film arrives at its mythological final resting place: the mountainside cemetery, where all the anger and violence is at last released, the film mosaic broken into fragments, consumed in the destruction. Don't Play With Fire doesn't end, but simply comes to an abrupt halt. One gets the feeling that if Tsui had continued beyond the final scene, he would have had to destroy Hong Kong itself.