Director: Benny Chan
Cast: Donnie Yen, Nicholas Tse, Qin Lan, Patrick Tam, Kenny Wong, Deep Ng, Jena Ho, Angus Yeung, Bruce Tong, Henry Mak, Yu Kang, German Cheung, Tony Wu, Ray Lui, Simon Yam, Ben Yuen, Ben Lam, Ken Low, Carlos Chan
Runtime: 2 hrs 6 mins
Rating: NC16 (Violence and Coarse Language)
Released By: mm2 Entertainment
Opening Day: 19 August 2021
Synopsis: While conducting a raid to arrest a drug lord, the police encounter a team of masked thugs. In a stunning act of sabotage, the thugs steal the drugs and murder the police officers on the scene. Arriving late, Inspector Cheung Shung-bong (Donnie Yen) is devastated to see the brutal aftermath of the carnage. After investigating overnight, Bong discovers that the cop killers are led by Ngo (Nicholas Tse), a former fellow cop. Behind Ngo’s scar is a tragic story of a police force rising star who is forced into a life of crime, and the man who pushed Ngo into crime was none other than Bong. As the two men’s fates are entangled again, it’s time to settle the score once and for all...
One sad fact that is going to stick with Raging Fire forever is that it marks the last completed work of one of Hong Kong’s best action director, Benny Chan. Chan known for A Moment of Romance and Big Bullet unfortunately passed away last August after a brief bout with cancer. On a happier note, we have a new Donnie Yen movie which is always a good thing for action fans.
Chan shared story credits with Ryan Ling (Hand Rolled Cigarette) and Tim Tong (Call of Heroes) in this frustratingly average crime flick that deals with police politics and brotherhood. Given Donnie and Nicholas Tse’s combined star power, the expectation is undeniable sky high but the entire premise can only qualify as a passable entertaining actioner.
Within minutes of the opening, the story established Bong (Yen) as a by-the-book, capable, committed cop who is happily married with a pregnant wife (an underused Qin Lan). But Bong is haunted by an incident which will be slowly revealed as the story goes. Shortly after, Bong’s mentor (Ray Lui) and his colleagues are brutally killed in a drug bust by a group of mysterious masked men. Not surprisingly, Bong vows revenge thus setting off a series of confrontations and action pieces.
Unless you have been living under the rocks or avoiding the trailers and promotional materials, you would have known Tse plays the main antagonist, Ngo opposite good guy Donnie. Apparently, Ngo and his henchmen were once policemen but jailed for killing a suspect. Ngo was once a promising cop under his mentor Bong and when a prominent millionaire businessman is kidnapped, Ngo was forced by a senior policeman (Ben Yuen) to take harsh action or risk “implications” in his career. In order to extract the truth, the suspect was killed during the ordeal. Ngo blamed Bong for refusing to lie under oath which resulted in the suicide of a fellow team mate and their subsequent prosecution. Thus, it’s time to settle their scores but not without more deaths and destruction.
Given the tense relationship between the Hong Kong law or cops and commoners in recent years, Raging Fire raises a very promising idea about corrupted cops who rather curry favour the rich and famous and those whose ultimate aim is just to mete out justice on the criminals. Yen’s character of course belongs to the latter as he refuses to kowtow to his immediate supervisors over an incident involving a spoilt brat of a rich man. Ngo on the hand was let down by a similarly “corrupted” higher ranking cop who simply wants to rub shoulders with the rich and not having the guts to cover up for his subordinates. However, this potentially interesting idea never gets much realization in the end except opening a can of worms which involve a righteous cop sparring against a ruthless criminal.
Because of his backstory, the script allows Tse to turn in a villainous performance that is both complex and at times, over-the-top. Maybe it’s the result of the horrid Mandarin dubbing or perhaps the weak scripting that prevents Tse from fully embracing the psychological nuance of his tortured character. Still, he is able to give the late Heath Ledger a run for his money especially in an interrogation scene with Bong which reminds us of The Dark Knight with Donnie acting all riled up liked an unmasked Batman.
As expected, Raging Fire has all the shoot-em-up of a typical Benny Chan flick. The action choreography credited to Donnie Yen stuntman team, Tanigaki Kenji (Yen’s frequent collaborator), Ku Huen Chiu (protégé of Yuen Woo Ping) and Nicky Li (ex-member of Jackie Chan stuntman team) supervising the car stunts is a bit of a mixed bag. Likely a result of too many cooks spoiling the soup, the various action set pieces have none of the memorable, rousing factors seen in Firestorm and Cold War, both choregraphed by Chin Kar-Lok.
Although the trailer showcases Donnie going mano a mano with Nicholas, that only happens in the finale which for a lack of better word, serviceable only. Obviously, it’s not possible to top SPL, you know the one that has Wu Jing and Donnie in a back alley. The climatic gun battle that happened prior on a crowded Tsim Sha Tsui shopping street fails to top the one in Firestorm as well. You know the one that has Andy Lau and a machine gun. An earlier motorcycle chase between Bong and Ngo fairs somewhat mediocre and ends unbelievably liked a superhero sequence. Donnie also gets to spar with veteran actor Ben Lam in a hard-hitting sequence but as mentioned, none of the action stands out as particularly well-choreographed, (well-lit) or compelling. Despite the many energetic action sequences, quantities don’t measure up to quality.
As much as we love to give a four stars rating to Benny Chan’s last cinematic contribution, the odds are simply not in his favour. While certainly not as muddled as Divergence or the cheesy, bromance disguised action thriller, The White Storm, comparing to recent efforts from younger HK directors churning out the same themes as Raging Fire, this movie often times feel undercooked and painfully familiar. We wish somehow there’s a better story with better action somewhere. We can only wish.
(Benny Chan and Donnie Yen knows action. Enough said if you are an action fan of HK cinema)
Review by Linus Tee