Director: Ringo Lam
Cast: Daniel Wu, Joseph Chang, Zhang Jingchu, Amber Kuo, Zhang Ruoyun, Fan Guang Yao, Wayne Lai，Philip Keung, Eddie Cheung, Jim Chim
Runtime: 1 hr 40 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Violence)
Released By: Encore Films and Golden Village Pictures
Opening Day: 1 December 2016
Synopsis: Five years ago, a mysterious fire at the lab killed Professor Poon, and the notebook containing his research on a cancer cure ‘Ex-stem cell’ disappeared without a trace. His assistant Ko Yuk (Zhang Jingchu) escaped death, thanks to security guard Chong Tin-po (Daniel Wu). After losing his wife to cancer, Tin-po enters Sky One, a top-level medical facility financed by the tycoons, as its head of security, with the hope that the lab will one day develop a cure for cancer. At Sky One, Ko Yuk also continues the professor’s research on ‘Ex-stem cell’, and she wholeheartedly believes in developing a cure to save lives. On the other hand, her husband Tong Wing-cheung, who is Sky One’s president, is a ruthless businessman who wants to use the cure as bait for greater power and wealth. Meanwhile, Chia-chia (Joseph Chang) brings his cancer-afflicted sister Jen (Amber Kuo) from Taiwan to Sky One in Hong Kong to seek medical treatment, and they find themselves caught in the middle of a violent robbery at the facility. The robbery is planned by Professor Poon’s son Chi-man (Zhang Ruoyun), who had sworn to discover the truth behind his father’s death. Chi-man steals the ‘Ex-stem cell’ cure and engages in an explosvie battle against Tin-po and his security team.
“Fire”, “City”, “Wild” and “Full”. Those familiar with action auteur Ringo Lam’s works will know that his movie titles somehow have the tendency to contain the above words. Be it coincidental or playful on the producers’ part, it’s always welcome to see yet another Lam’s work on the big screen.
His sophomore effort after his semi-retirement comeback effort Wild City is less gritty, less complicated and absolutely ridiculous. Set in a crumbling society, he attempts to tell a story filled with colorful characters each with their own motive and backstory. The ingredients are in place, the chef is ready; unfortunately no one realized the recipe is half-baked.
On paper, Sky On Fire sounds exactly like a high octane Hollywood blockbuster. A top-level medical facility, Sky One is on the brink of developing a cure for cancer. But somehow it’s linked to a mysterious fire which killed Professor Poon and destroyed his research material five years ago. With Poon’s passing, his assistant Ko Yun (Zhang Jingchu) wholeheartedly continued with the research. Her husband (Fan Guangyao) on the other hand is the ruthless CEO of Sky One, who has other plans for his ex-mentor and wife’s creation, the Ex-stem cell.
When the son of Professor Poon, Zhiwen (Zhang Ruoyun), hijacks the truck carrying the revolutionary cancer cure medicine, all hell breaks loose. In comes the head of Sky One security Tinbo (Daniel Wu) who will risk anything to get it back. At the same time, some dark secrets are about to spill along with an inevitable bloodshed because Zhiwen believes there is more to his father’s death.
In most of Ringo Lam’s classic past works, his protagonist is mostly a flawed character and not someone you associate with the typical hero. Take for example Ko Chow, the undercover cop in City On Fire, and Ting Ching, the prisoner in Prison On Fire. His movies normally celebrate the mayhem and the imperfection of mankind and audiences went crazy over his style just like those who loved John Woo’s ultra-violent set pieces. Lam’s subsequent works The Adventurers and The Suspect makes absolutely good use of location shooting in Thailand and Philippines, with Full Alert establishing itself as a worthy crime thriller between a cop and a crook set mostly in the busy streets of Hong Kong.
Sky On Fire reminisces none of Lam’s previous grounded works - unless he is trying to discard his old self. The entire movie is one boring chase after another with plenty of flashbacks inserted in-between that no one cares about. In other words, the entire movie revolves around the cancer-curing miracle and lame exposition. It offers so many familiar stars from HK to the Mainland to Taiwan but none has enough screentime to flash out the characters they played.
Daniel Wu’s Chong is a tragic character who lost his wife to cancer and subsequently lost his faith. Yet he is somehow determined to retrieve back the cell to save lives. He is supposedly the leading man in this action thriller but his screentime is limited to being a super soldier who engages in bloody PG13 fistfights. Taiwanese Joseph Chang reunites with Ringo Lam to play a brother who is desperate to save his cancer-stricken half-sister played by cute as a button, Amber Kuo. Save for a heroic leap from one rooftop to another, his role only requires him to scream a little and gets bloodily beaten up.
Those looking for action spectacle will again be disappointed by the lack of it. With the exception of a few badly framed car chases (a real Maserati is apparently used) and a few unmemorable hand-to-hand combat, the action sequences are pathetic. Making things worse is the heavy use of CGI, the kind that looks alarmingly bad on the big screen. We are confident you can easily spot a CGI tower, a CGI helicopter and lots of CGI explosions but nothing matches the enthusiastic performance of baddie Wolf (Li Haitao). The movie never fails to hit the high note whenever Wolf appears to beat up someone.
If Lam’s idea is to making a heart-pounding medical thriller with questions about morality and faith, he never accomplishes what he set out to make. Implausible and too ambitious for its own good, we deserve a much better movie, especially since it is coming straight out from the hands and brain of Ringo Lam.
(The most generic Ringo Lam movie ever)
Review by Linus Tee