FIRESTORMDirector: Alan Yuen
Cast: Andy Lau, Gordon Lam, Yao Chen, Hu Jun, Ray Lui, Kenny Wong, Michael Wong, Grace Wong, Terence Yin, Oscar Leung, Vincent Sze, Sammy Hung, Patrick Keung
Genre: Action, Thriller
Run Time: 118 mins
Opens: 12 December 2013
Rating: NC-16 (Violence And Drug Use)
A popular subgenre of videos on YouTube is known as the “supercut” – short clips from various movies all on the same theme, spliced together. Jukka-Pekka Bohm posted his “There’s a Storm Coming” supercut, demonstrating just how many films have employed an oncoming storm as an omen that something serious is about to go down. Terminator, The Dark Knight Rises, Donnie Darko, Skyfall, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and even Night at the Museum have had loaded warnings about oncoming meteorological phenomena. Granted, that last one was said to a monkey. Judging by all the time-lapse footage of storm clouds rolling over Hong Kong we’re treated to in this action thriller, Andy Lau’s about to find himself caught in the mother of all storms.
Lau plays Lui Ming Chit, a no-nonsense, by-the-book Senior Inspector with the Hong Kong Police Force. A posse of crooks headed by Cho Nam (Hu Jun), notoriously good at evading capture, pulls off a daring armoured car heist in broad daylight. An ex-convict and former high school Judo rival of Lui’s named To Sing Pong (Gordon Lam) continues to tussle with Lui, though in an attempt to prove to his girlfriend Yin Bing (Yao Chen) that he’s reformed, he eventually agrees to act as an informant within Cho Nam’s crew. Lui has another man on the inside (Patrick Keung), whose autistic daughter he is godfather to. The spate of crimes masterminded by Cho Nam and his ruthless associate Paco (Ray Lui) continue to escalate as Lui finds himself breaking the rules he’s lived by as a cop and endangering those he cares about in his pursuit of justice.
Firestorm has everything we’ve come to expect in a crime action thriller: shootouts, fisticuffs, car chases, pyrotechnics, all that jazz. It is to writer-director Alan Yuen’s credit that even though we’ve seen all of this before, the film he’s crafted is far from boring or overly-familiar. He proves himself more than capable of generating suspense and getting the viewer invested in the proceedings, aided by some very exciting and downright impressive action set pieces choreographed by industry veteran Chin Ka Lok. The climactic firefight which violently turns Central into a veritable warzone brings to mind the finale of Michael Mann’s Heat, and the car chase through narrow alleyways leading up to it is reminiscent of John Frankenheimer’s Ronin; these are very flattering comparisons to draw.
There is a decent story underneath of all this, the main theme being how much those who do police work for a living put on the line, and to what end. The relationships between Lui and his informants are weaved in a sufficiently engaging manner, though there definitely is a tendency towards melodrama evident in the connections he has to both characters: Sing Pong is his schoolmate and the movie even opens with a flashback to the two throwing down on the Judo mat in school, and once Lui’s vulnerable goddaughter appears on screen, it is made very clear that the film is going down the predictable and somewhat distasteful route of imperilling a child to add to the stakes. The film’s weakest scene is a confrontation between Sing Pong and Yin Bing, the woman in his life, who pleads with him to leave his life of crime behind or there can be no future between them, all as the score swells in the background.
Fans of Andy Lau will know he cuts a great figure in police uniform and the role of Senior Inspector Lui is right up his alley, Lau playing down his leading man charm and delivering an intense, laser-focused performance. Gordon Lam’s “wrong side of the tracks” character is arguably even more compelling than Inspector Lui, always just missing out on his chance at redemption. Hu Jun is entertainingly smug as a conniving master criminal who enjoys toying with the police but doesn’t become a moustache-twirling villain – Ray Lui takes care of that. Yao Chen’s Yin Bing has a propensity towards being whiny and gets in the way a lot, but her frustrations with her significant other certainly are understandable.
A gripping action thriller that rises above being just another run of the mill genre entry with well-staged set pieces and strong lead performances, Firestorm’s dips into melodramatic territory and its frequent use of “dramatic echo” flashbacks is easy to forgive. There’s heavy duty ordnance deployed throughout, with the bad guys favouring grenade launchers, myriad cars get flipped over, chunks of debris fly towards camera to justify the 3D post-conversion (we saw the 2D version; apparently the 3D print won't be available in Singapore) and yet, there’s enough of a human element in addition to the blockbuster fireworks.
SUMMARY: Andy Lau catches fire in this robust thriller; the high-octane action beats making up for its slight lack of dramatic subtlety.
RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars