firestorm

Firestorm (Fung bou)

Hong Kong/China (2013) Dir. Alan Yeun

Cao Nan (Hu Jun) is an art dealer and crook from the Mainland, who is planning another on his audacious armed robberies which he is able to get away with as the police are always unable to pin him through lack of hard evidence. Hot on Cao’s trail is Inspector Lui Ming-chit (Andy Lau), a cop who plays everything down the line and with utter discipline.

To Shing-Bong (Gordon Lam) is a recently released ex-con and ex-schoolmate of Lui, who wants to make a fresh start with this girlfriend Yin Bing (Yao Chen) but finds himself embroiled in Cao’s plans. When Lui’s mole in Cao’s gang Tong Keung (Patrick Keung) is discovered and killed, Lui decides that he has to fight fire with fire and tries to recruit Shing-Bong as his mole to bring Cao down once and for all.

Alan Yeun’s name has been made in screenwriting rather than directing, with Firestorm being only his third time in the helmer’s chair. Notable writing credits include Jackie Chan’s New Police Story, Robin B. Hood and Shaolin so Yeung knows how to spin an action packed yarn, once again evident from this tightly woven if sometimes a little too layered crime drama.

Recalling the heyday of explosive Hong Kong action fare as delivered by the tandem of John Woo and Chow Yun Fat, this film was made in 3D – which is evident even in 2D by the onslaught of flying shrapnel, blood droplets and other convenient little touches to make the most of this needless gimmick – and proved a hit with the homegrown audience making its money back in the first weekend.

Filtering out a non-spoiler summary was a little difficult as the story is very involved including such pivotal elements as Lui’s mole, a favourite plot device of Hong Kong crime thrillers which reached its apogee with the mighty Infernal Affairs (also starring Andy Lau). Shing-Bong is a curious character in that he we see he wants to go straight to please Yin yet is easily dragged back into a life of crime with the unscrupulous Cao.

There is also the matter of Shing-Bong and Lui being rivals from school, especially in the Judo ranks which adds a unique dynamic to their relationships since you’d imagine Shing-Bong would be more careful. Unfortunately Cao’s arrogance in his heists, in which he and his men are masked, show no mercy for any innocent bystanders which hurts Lui personally as much as it does his reputation as a good cop.

Tragically this includes the young mentally handicapped daughter of his mole Keung, Yiu-Yiu (an impressive turn from young Jacqueline Chan) which is the straw that breaks Lui’s back.

There is little doubt that Cao’s brazen attitude will be the prominent factor to stick with the viewer in the first half of the film, startling us all as he is blatantly involved, either personally or in the planning, yet can play innocent straight to Lui’s face. Because of his ability to cover his tracks Cao knows that despite Lui being unequivocally right, there is no evidence to associate him with the crime let alone arrest him.

However, depending on your point of view, there is a mid point twist which is either something of a game changer or a deus ex machina development to throw the audience off course. It certainly pays dividends as Lui’s change in attitude brings with it a spectacular final twenty minutes which takes in incredible car stunts and the mother of all shoot outs which literally tears up downtown central Hong Kong and then some!

It’s not just the finale that offers up some breathtaking action with some fast paced, stunt filled set pieces scattered through out the early going. There is no denying that some of these tend to stretch credibility a tad, with the typical gravity defying punch ups where the fighters are seemingly indestructible, largely designed once again to capitalise on the 3D gimmick, but put these aside and one has to agree that they get their money’s worth with the action quotient.  

All of the main players are curious characters who play their cards close to their chests yet are well fleshed out even with the absence of background exposition. Lui in particular is defined loud and clear through Andy Lau’s insightful performance, letting the nuances in small scenes let us know all we need to about the “by the book” cop.

When the darker attitude gradually takes over, Lau gives us an impressive reading of a conflicted law man succumbing to underhand tactics. In contrast Cao’s criminal personality is naturally blatant yet Hu Jun’s performance is subtle and restrained, creating a suitably cold antagonist in the process.

Elsewhere Shing-Bong finds himself torn between his actions and his vow to girlfriend Yin Bing. On occasion she catches him while on the job yet he pleads with her that it is not what she thinks despite it looking exactly that. Both Gordon Lam and Yao Chen make for a very convincing couple, the latter showing some rare fire for a Hong Kong love interest, not taking any of Shing-Bong’s guff.

It is a little unfortunate that Yin’s presence is intermittent as Chen was delivering way above her character’s need. For Lam this was along overdue chance to have a major role in a crime thriller after years of playing the sidekick or supporting player, a challenge he rises to and meets head on with aplomb.    

Aside from some unnecessary pandering to the 3D gimmick and an annoying habit for random slow motion scenes, Alan Yeun has shown himself to be a promising prospect on the directing front with Firestorm. A taut if sometimes over cooked story with exciting action scenes and committed central performances, this is a strong addition to the Hong Kong crime thriller canon.

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