Movie Review: Raging Fire (怒火)

Hong Kong filmmaker Benny Chan/陳木勝 was diagnosed with nasopharyngeal cancer while working on what would become his final film. He sadly passed away last October at age 58. If explosive crime films are your thing, RAGING FIRE, which is now rolling out to cinemas around the world, will not disappoint.

Cheung Sung-Bong aka “Bong” (Donnie Yen/甄子丹, the IP MAN films, and also one of this film’s producers) is an officer of the Regional Crime Unit in Hong Kong. Honest to a fault, he is seen as a bit of an outsider by his colleagues in the senior ranks, some of whom would prefer to get their palms greased by the city’s rich and powerful than let justice be blind. Four years earlier, Bong testified at the trial some of his fellow cops who were charged with beating a perp to death while in custody. Bong, who witnessed the incident, could have lied while under oath but instead he chose to tell the truth, sending his colleagues, including his protégé, Yau Kong-Ngo aka “Ngo” (Nicholas Tse/謝霆鋒, THE STOOL PIGEON/綫人), to prison. Now Ngo and the boys are out and they have sworn vengeance on Bong and the other senior officers who had said they would back them up if they got into trouble but didn’t.

RAGING FIRE is rather reminiscent of Michael Mann’s 1995 film, HEAT, starring Al Pacino and Robert De Niro as cop and criminal respectively, who have a professional respect for each other while both knowing that only one of them will prevail in the end. Here, Ngo respects that Bong is a good cop but he just can’t get past the feeling that he and his colleagues were hung out to dry by the people they trusted. Four years in the slammer, it seems, has turned him into a psychotic criminal mastermind who can pull off over-the-top robberies, kidnappings and murders that are timed down to the second.

Yen is a wonder here at age 58, running, jumping, climbing and, of course, fighting. Bong is like a Timex watch, taking a licking — multiple lickings, really — and he still keeps on ticking. Yen choreographed all the fight scenes in the movie which Chan flawlessly captured on film without the need for shaky camerawork, tight shots, low level lighting or quick cuts. Hollywood directors like Robert Schwentke (SNAKE EYES), Cate Shortland (BLACK WIDOW), Simon McQuoid (MORTAL KOMBAT), Ryûhei Kitamura/北村 龍平 (THE DOORMAN) and many others should sit up and take notes. This is how you do it! Tse is fine here too, though most of the time he’s just scowling. He does that extremely well though. The best part of the film, though, comes in an elaborately staged climax set in one of the city’s busiest shopping districts. As I watched the scene, I marvelled at the production team’s ability to get our government to agree to let them film there during broad daylight. Most Hong Kong productions are filmed outdoors between 2 and 6 am. I now know that the scene was actually a set built in an industrial part of the city (Quarry Bay, if you’re interested) and much of the action was green screened. Now I’m really impressed. There’s a video showing how they did it on YouTube.

RAGING FIRE opens in Hong Kong on Thursday (August 19th). It opened in the US last Friday. It’s not for everyone but I’ll say this much: For a final film, Chan definitely went out on a high.

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