HKMDB Daily News

January 11, 2014

Firestorm (Variety review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: — dleedlee @ 2:22 pm

Firestorm
Maggie Lee
January 7, 2014

Laying waste to everything with blaring 3D effects, “Firestorm” plays more like a disaster movie than a crime saga, given its risibly implausible story of a policeman fighting mainland Chinese robbers on the rampage in Hong Kong. Helmer-scribe Alan Yuen makes every scene go bang and boom, burying his potentially compelling subject — a law enforcer’s quandary when justice crumbles under brute force — under so much CGI rubble. This being the most extravagant (though not the most technically polished) Chinese 3D blockbuster in recent release, pic boasts whiz-bang B.O. in China and currently holds top spot in Hong Kong cinemas.

Although Yuen has helmed a B-grade romance (1994′s “Touches of Love”) and shares writing-directing credits with Sylvia Chang on the cyber-love story “Princess D” (2002), he is best known for scripting Benny Chan’s blockbusters, including “New Police Story” (2004), “Rob-B-Hood” (2006) and “Shaolin” (2010). While these hits succeeded by prioritizing action and spectacle over plot and character, Yuen’s shortcomings as a screenwriter are apparent in “Firestorm,” with its uneven pacing and pedestrian storytelling. Still, the director has unmistakably absorbed some of Chan’s skill at handling large-scaled productions, a slightly messy look in the large crowd scenes notwithstanding.

Yuen’s ambition is evident in his decision to set the pic’s biggest shootouts on Hong Kong’s congested streets. The first and most rousing of these depicts the robbery of an armored vehicle, masterminded by mainland racketeer Cao Nan (Hu Jun, smugly menacing). Responding to a tipoff by a stool pigeon, senior inspector Lui (Andy Lau) has assembled his veteran team to bust these crooks.

The clash between the two sides — a propulsive, bloody affair made even more cataclysmic by the typhoon hitting the city — is interrupted when a stray car rams into the fray, enabling the key perpetrators to flee. The driver, Bong (Lam Ka-tung), who’s fresh out of jail, happens to be Lui’s high-school classmate. In one of the film’s few subtle moments, the two old friends have a catch-up chat, rife with innuendo that leaves no doubt that Bong is involved in the heist.

As Lui is bent on putting Cao behind bars, the latter simply ups his game. A police raid on his gang’s hideout erupts in a crossfire of “Diehard” proportions, and some audiences may wonder if the scene is set in a Hong Kong residential block or a Chechnyan war zone. That’s just a warm-up for the protracted grand finale, during which the robbers, led by loose-cannon ex-con Paco (Ray Lui, like a manic jester), try to loot another armored vehicle, only they behave more like suicide bombers.

For all the novelty of seeing Queen’s Road Central, Hong Kong’s swanky downtown, turn into a bomb site, none of the crash-bang gunfights and car explosions live up to the tension and surprise of the opening highway sequence, while some of the more contrived developments are derivative of scenes in the Korean tsunami-disaster film “Haeundae.” Also: Armed to the teeth as they are, doesn’t it cost them more to buy all that artillery than what they’re stealing?

If greater care had been taken with the intertwined character arcs of Lui and Bong, it might have provided enough dramatic substance to offset the sensory overload. Lui’s despair is initially affecting, as he watches Cao deviously maneuver his way around the law while his henchmen massacre innocents in cold-blooded fashion. However, Lui’s climactic switcheroo lacks psychological buildup, relying instead on a soapy subplot involving his retired informant Keung (Philip Keung, operatic) volunteering for “one last job.”

While Lau simply seems to be playing himself so long as Lui is in hero mode, he’s less convincing once his character sheds his ideals. By comparison, Lam turns in an ace perf, playing Bong with rapscallion charm, and suggesting how he fell into a life of crime only because it’s less taxing than making an honest living. He generates sparks with mainland thesp Yao Chen as his feisty and steadfast wife, Bing; despite the corniness of Bong turning over a new leaf for the love of a good woman, his eventual transformation feels authentic and moving.

“Firestorm” harks back to ’90s Hong Kong police actioners, and also tips its cap to “Infernal Affairs” in the way it depicts cops and robbers as each other’s alter egos. But the film most significantly recalls the seminal “Long Arm of the Law” (1984), reflecting the anxieties of Hong Kong citizens whose faith in law and order is shattered by the army-trained criminals pouring across the mainland border. Interestingly, the depiction of PLA-soldier-turned-entrepreneur-crook Cao as a suave planner-leader, more efficient than Hong Kong hothead Paco, suggests an updated notion of Chinese social mobility.

The expense of the 3D effects, courtesy of Taiwan’s Free-D Workshop, is visible in every frame, but the texture of some of the images, especially of flames and flying debris, is surprisingly coarse. Likewise, while the car stunts are fast and furious, action director Chin Ka-lok has done more thoughtful, sophisticated work elsewhere. Other tech credits, such as Peter Kam’s pounding score, Kinson Tsang’s booming sound mix and Chan Chi-ying’s swooping camerawork (much less subtle than Chan’s lensing in “The Bullet Vanishes”), are pro but on-the-nose. The film’s Chinese title means “Windstorm.”

Reviewed at the Venetian, Macau, Dec. 13, 2013. Running time: 119 MIN. Original title: “Fung bo”

Production
(Hong Kong-China) An Edko Films (in Hong Kong)/Xian Sil-Metropole Film Distribution (in China) release of an Edko Films, Sil-Metropole Organization, Focus Films, Good Friends Entertainment, China Dream Film Culture Industry, Ample Ideas Intl., He Xin Zhongshan Jin Investment Management Co., Elegance Medai Guangdong Co., Youku Tudou presentation of a Focus Film production. (International sales: Edko Films, Hong Kong.) Produced by Rosanna Ng, Chan Pui-wah, Dele Liu. Executive producers, Bill Kong, Song Dai, Andy Lau, T.P. Lim. Co-producers, Cheung Hong-tat, Ren Yue, Zhang Yuancheng, Allen Zhu. Administrative producers, Stephen Lam, Simon Li, Jaime Sze, Chen Bing, Yvonne Lui.

Crew
Directed, written by Alan Yuen. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Chan Chi-ying; editors, Kwong Chi-keung, Ron Chan; music, Peter Kam; production designer, Renee Wong; costume designer, Man Lim-chung, Boey Wong; sound (Dolby Digital), Kinson Tsang; re-recording mixer, Tsang; visual effects supervisor, Yu Kwok-leung; visual effects, Free-D Workshop; action director, Chin Ka-lok; line producer, Fan Kim-hung; associate producers, Y.C. Kong, Sze Yeung-ping, Alice Yeung, Jessica Chen, Wang Feng, Gao Rui, C.L. Chan.

With
Andy Lau, Lam Ka-tung, Yao Chen, Hu Jun, Philip Keung, Ray Lui, Michael Wong, Kenny Wong, Terence Yin. (Cantonese, Mandarin dialogue)

Variety

December 6, 2013

Firestorm (Hollywood Reporter review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: — dleedlee @ 8:38 pm

Firestorm
12/5/2013 by Clarence Tsui

The Bottom Line
Ceaseless displays of choreographed firepower undermines what could have been either an undercover thriller or a human drama about justifying ends with desperate means.

Guillermo del Toro did it earlier this year with Pacific Rim, and MichaelBay will try with the fourth Transformers installment in 2014. But with Firestorm, Hong Kong filmmakers have proven themselves to be just as adept at blowing their home city to smithereens onscreen as their foreign counterparts. Living up to its title,Alan Yuen’s directorial debut is a relentlessly fiery pyrotechnical spectacle, climaxing with a protracted heavy-artillery shootout that has Hong Kong’s central business district literally caving in on itself.

While it will be a critic’s dream to interpret this as a metaphor for the capitalism being laid waste – and it’s not really that farfetched of an effort, given how Yuen also deploys an incoming typhoon (which provides the film with its Chinese title) as the symbol of the mayhem to come – Firestorm couldn’t be read as anything more than just an action thriller. In fact, even the plot itself is nearly entirely submerged by car crashes, gunfights and explosions, as the all-around deafening chaos jettisons hopes of the viewer empathizing with the protagonists’ struggle to reconcile their unscrupulous deeds with their good intentions.

The film’s co-producerAndy Lau reprises the role of the po-faced but internally-conflicted police inspector, which he played to perfection in Infernal Affairs, while his co-star (and erstwhile perennial supporting actor) Gordon Lam delivers a standout performance in perhaps his most prominent role to date. Firestorm – which is released in both 3D and 2D formats – should still provide enough interest to bring its backer Bill Kong of Edko Filmsanother hit police film. Still, Yuen and his producers have missed an opportunity to bring to the fore a calibrated contemplation about moral ambivalence in a city quickly losing its bearings – something which underpins the commercially successful Cold War last year.

In the film, the good guys are hapless and exasperated from the beginning: a team of police officers are pushed to drinking and divorce as they toil in vain to secure evidence against a group of robbers running rampant around the city with their carefully choreographed heists. What’s bugging them is the need to do things by the book, as one of them jokes how they used to easily be able to get a confession out of an innocent man, let alone someone whose complicity in a crime is clearly visible.

It’s a comment which serves as the harbinger of the moral dilemma that the film’s major protagonist, Inspector Lui (Lau), would soon have to face. A thoroughly disciplined man who lives and dies by his strict adherence to rules and regulations – this is someone who would insist in dumping a finished lunchbox in a garbage bin even during a stakeout – his principle is slowly eaten away as his targets, led by the showboat kingpin Cao Nan (Hu Jun), continue to elude the law with their canny efforts in removing all evidence which will have them indicted for the crimes committed.

Among those who taunts Lui is the ex-con To Shing-bong (Lam), a childhood friend of the detective who happens to be working for Cao. Resisting Lui’s repeated attempts to badger him into becoming a snitch on Cao’s gang, To’s struggle to retain some kind of normalcy in his life with his girlfriend Bing (Yao Chen) finally leads him to throw his lot with Lui – a wrongly-timed move, as To also confesses of knowing certain things which would render meaningless, criminal even, an extra-judicial act the detective commits in order to bring Cao to justice.

All this is eventually reconciled through the explosive street battle at the end of the film, but only marginally. Well before the fiery finale, the plot points have already been overwhelmed by the bombastic action sequences which, though meticulously choreographed by Chin Ka-lok, would stretch logic to the limit. For all the attention lavished on these scenes, the screenplay takes a hit through pretensions of the epic (such as when a character is made to recite The Lord’s Prayer – backed by stirring music – as his loved one is thrown off a building) and the intrusions of clichés (as seen in the interaction between To and Bing, a character who could use more dimension than just the formulaic hoodlum’s long-suffering partner).

The artifice actually runs against what should have been Firestorm’s strongest suit – that is, the efforts spent in authenticating the film’s Hong Kong roots, as neighborhoods, streets and landmarks are all name checked to provide a sense of geographical and cultural precision to the proceedings. But of course, it’s an attempt easily laid waste by the cataclysmic devastation at the film’s end. It takes more than just gestures of eye-popping force to engage viewers.

Venue: ScreenSingapore (world premiere; opens on mainland China and Southeast Asia on Dec. 12, and Hong Kong on Dec. 19)
Production companies: Edko Films Limited, Sil-Metropole Organization, Focus Films Limited, Good Friends Entertainment, China Dream Film Culture Industry Limited, Ample Ideas International Limited, He Xin Zhongshan Jin Investment Management Company Limited, Elegance Media Guangdong Company Limited, Youku Tudou Inc
Director: Alan Yuen
Cast: Andy Lau, Gordon Lam, Yao Chen, Hu Jun, Ray Lui
Producers: Bill Kong, Andy Lau, Rosanna Ng, Chan Pui-wah, Dele Liu, Cheung Hong-tat, Ren Yue, Zhang Yuancheng, Allen Zhu
Executive Producers: Bill Kong, Song Dai, Andy Lau, TP Lim, Sze Jaime, Aaron Liao, Zeng Yi, Jane Tang, Victor Koo
Screenwriter: Alan Yuen
Director of Photography: Chan Chi-ying
Editors: Kwong Chi-leung, Ron Chan
Production Designer: Renee Wong
Costume Designer: Boey Wong, Man Lim-chung
Music: Peter Kam
Action Director Chin Ka Lok
International Sales: Edko Films
Language: Cantonese (Mandarin for China and Singapore releases)
108 minutes.

THR

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