Director: Oxide Pang
Cast: Du Jiang, Wang Qianyuan, Tong Liya, Han Xue, Yu Haoming, Han Dongjun, Wang Ge, Hu Jun
Runtime: 1 hr 55 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Intense Sequences)
Released By: Golden Village Pictures
Opening Day: 28 April 2023
Synopsis: An earthquake triggers two massive explosions at a chemical plant, and the entire industrial park is struck so hard, that it leaves the ground punctured with a wide hole, and a neighboring school engulfed in flames. Captain Zhao (by Wang Gianyuan) and Liu (by Yu Haoming) of the Fire and Rescue Force quickly arrives on the scene, but the latter soon finds himself trapped under debris... At the same time, the engineer, Ye (by Tong Liya), accompanied by Fire and Rescue Force's Co-ordinator Han (by Du Jiang), comes to the facilities for assessment. Captain Zhao and Han, despite the disagreement between them, are able to put bitterness behind and work together. Barrels of flaming methanol suddenly collapses, and in an effort to prevent a burst nearing the effect of a nuclear explosion, and to hold the fire at bay until reinforcements arrive, Captain Zhao and his team hurry away to cut a fire-break.
A decade ago, Oxide Pang and his brother, Danny teamed up to tell a firefighting tale called Out of Inferno starring Sean Lau and Louis Koo. If over the years all you can remember is the Pang Brothers’ horror thriller, The Eye, you are not exactly at fault here as the filmmaking duo are more impressive in terms of conjuring visuals than in the storytelling department.
Minus Danny, Oxide is back after a long hiatus and instead of returning to his speciality horror genre, he is doing yet another firefighting/disaster thriller, a well-meaning title that showcases the ability of the Chinese government to overcome every obstacles and protect all civilians at all cost during any natural disasters, accidents and more. In other words, it’s probably propaganda to a selected few. As for those who don’t care a hoot about hot-button political issues will likely enjoy the humanitarian message behind and the impressive visuals.
The narrative is as simple as it can be. A 3.1 earthquake has triggered a massive explosion at a chemical plant and a team from the nearby Fire and Rescue force is being activated to rescue the survivors and control the fire from spreading further into civilization while more reinforcements are on the way from other provinces. Leading the team is Captain Zhao Ying Qi (Wang Qianyuan), a tech expert Han Kai (Du Jiang who also appeared in the similar theme The Bravest) and recruit Wu (Elvis Han) and together they must reached the front-line and avoiding deadly after blasts before the fire reaches the chemical tanks.
Although Oxide is not involved in the screenplay this time round, there’s little to none in terms of character development. We didn’t get to know much of the main characters except the fiancée of Captain Zhao is having second thoughts about their marriage before involving in the disaster herself. Han Kai is known to be a drone expert and harbours an infatuation towards Ye Xin (Tong Liya), a safety engineer who is coincidentally deployed to the site as an advisor as the story goes. Then there is Wu who is some sort of a sports fanatic and also a bubbly team mate whose father’s 60th birthday is coming and he is secretly planning a celebration for him.
In short, the story wastes no time in getting the firemen and the audiences to the fire site. As one of the movie editors, Oxide effortlessly switches from one scene to another. One minute the camera is on a blazing school and the next, we are treated to a heart-pounding scene of the team trying desperately to rescue a group of trapped workers from the rumble. Comparing Flashover to Out of Inferno, Oxide seems to rely more on grounded, smaller-scale rescue efforts rather than flashy display of heroic acts to get his point across. While there are generous display of CGI-enhanced flames and explosions, it’s still rather restraint considering Oxide’s past efforts.
The movie does require some compelling evidence to prove why most of the reinforcements only appear at the very critical minute liked the deployment of fire-fighting robots, drones and additional manpower despite more hazardous chemicals are about to send everyone (and even fire engines as well) flying. Perhaps the deliberate setup is to showcase the heroic acts and sacrifice of Zhao and his team of selfless firemen but we are sure there’s a better way to tell the story in a much more effective and convincing manner.
Flashover switches to a melodramatic mode in the movie’s last act with the deaths of two of Zhao’s men so be warned. Whether you are a fan of firefighting movies or not, this latest entry isn’t going to surpass any of the previous similar theme movies by Ron Howard, Johnny To or even Joseph Kosinski’s Only the Brave. There’s no memorable characters and the storyline is eerily similar in style to The Bravest. Even the ever reliable character actor Wang Qianyuan can’t save the movie given the generic, underwritten material.
(A rather serviceable, bland firefighting outing)
Review by Linus Tee