Fantasia 2021 Review: RAGING FIRE Barely Smolders
Shan (Donnie Yen) is a stubborn and incorruptible officer in the Hong Kong police. Immune to bribes and cajoling from senior officials in the force Shan soon finds himself and his team shut out of the big cases. After a high profile drug bust turns deadly Shan discovers that a former police officer Ngo (Nicholas Tse) has brought together his old team of disgraced officers. They will stop at nothing to reign terror in the streets of Hong Kong for the injustice they had been dealt years before.
Over his career Benny Chan had become a reliable provider of controlled cinematic mayhem, keeping pace with others around the World who made loud and brash action fare. Chan was Hong Kong’s answer. So there was a degree of high anticipation coming into Raging Fire when Chan paired up with Donnie Yen, no longer just a Hong Kong or Mainland superstar, but an international action icon. This is as close to an action dream team as you could get out of that region. So is it?
Sadly no. Raging Fire appears to be more interested in being a critique of how the police system works in Hong Kong than an action film. The message hammered down more than fists is those at the top are only concerned with how every case and arrest looks on them at the end of the day. Then, how easily they abandon their own when the chips fall. This isn't Raging Fire as much as it is about Raging Egos.
It is very frustrating how the story kept going back, and back, and back to the past, to explain over, and over again how Ngo and his team were screwed over by the police force bureaucracy. Just give us the damn story once. We’ve already figured it out the first time. This was not suspenseful as the film intended, just tedious.
We get it, Shan and Ngo were once close. We get it, the higher ups were protecting themselves and not Ngo and his team. We get it, Ngo and his team hold a grudge. Two men who were once brothers are now enemies. Then let them be enemies and let enemies do what they do best. Fight.
There are two very decent set pieces that open and close the movie. The opening set piece, the drug raid, takes place in a multi-level mall that may be abandoned or under renovations. Whenever we see scaffolding we always go back to that warehouse scene in Hard Boiled. Whenever we see a multlevel mall like this one we cannot help but think of Police Story. Ah, memories. This is the scene that sets up the peril in the story, the violent risk that cops take whenever they go into a situation like this. There are a lot of guns and an explosion. The wheels are set in motion during this scene.
The climax has to be a nod to Michael Mann’s Heat, a shootout on a crowded street. Gunmen, cops, automatic weapons and bags of money. The scene from that earlier film is too iconic to replicate though to it’s credit the one in Raging Fire does involve more innocent bystanders. The streets in Hong Kong are way more crowded than the streets of L.A. after all. This is the scene you see in the trailer, that has that really nice shot of Nicholas Tse throwing that grenade against the backdrop of an explosion. That’s about as pretty as this film gets. The shootout moves into the church that you see in the trailer as well and Shan and Ngo can have their final tete-a-tete, two brothers fighting until there is one left standing. Yen does get to show off his martial arts skills then and only then.
Anything else that happens in between is generic, a collection of on par action sequences. One car chase scene is hindered by bad effects and even worse editing. Here is a case where the insurance brokers have taken over and real stunt work is no longer allowed. At the end of the chase one vehicle is about to slam into another and Shan and a small child are about to be sandwiched in between. Shan grabs the young boy and jumps up and out of the way of the speeding vehicle landing on its roof. Except that it is cut into three shots. First, there is a close up of Shan (Yen) grabbing the boy, then a long shot of Shan (Yen?) jumping into the air with the boy in his arms, then back to close up of Shan (definitely Yen) on the hood of that car with the boy. Jump. Catch. Land. It’s not Liam Neeson jumping over a fence bad but it’s pretty insulting stunt work from the region once known for high risk, dare I say negligent stunt work.
There is a decent number of stunt men getting thrown around and blown up in the film but when it comes to Yen he’s become a victim of over-protecting interests. This is something on par with the barest of Hollywood output and I want that to be interpreted as much of an insult as anyone cares to make of it. Decent set pieces cannot gloss over the reality that the large bulk of this story is a slog to get through. Everything considered action fans and Yen’s fans deserve better.
Raging Fire should have been action heaven. Instead, we get a glut of procedural bureaucracy and high level politics dictating when the action happens. Preachy and bloated, it is not the way action fans will have wanted Chan’s legacy to end.
- Benny Chan
- Benny Chan
- Donnie Yen
- Nicholas Tse
- Jeana Ho
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