Hong Kong cinema is far from dead. Not at least the way Benny Chan proved his usual cinematic prowess in the long-awaited ‘Raging Fire’, which was sadly his final directorial effort after unexpectedly passed away from nasopharyngeal cancer last August at the age of 58.
Benny Chan, of course, was notable as one of Hong Kong’s most celebrated filmmakers who gave us genre classics like ‘A Moment of Romance’ (1990), ‘Big Bullet’ (1996) and ‘Gen-X Cops’ (1999). He also responsible for collaborating with Jackie Chan in four successful hits that include ‘Who Am I?’ (1998), ‘New Police Story’ (2004), ‘Rob-B-Hood’ (2006) and ‘Shaolin’ (2011), even though Jackie only appeared as a cameo in the latter film.
‘Raging Fire’ marks Benny’s return to the cop-film territory after spending the last few years exploring wuxia (2016’s ‘Call of Heroes’) and sci-fi comedy (2017’s ‘Meow’) genres. And the last time he did an action film about law enforcement was the exhilarating tribute to ‘80s heroic-bloodshed cinema in ‘The White Storm’ (2013). The story in ‘Raging Fire’ — credited to Benny Chan, Ling Wai-Chun and Tong Yiu-Leung — treads on familiar ground and even filled the gap with several callbacks to Chan’s own past films.
Donnie Yen, who collaborated with the director in ATV’s ‘Fist of Fury’ series back in the ‘90s, plays Regional Crime Unit inspector Cheung Shung-Bong. He used to team up with his protégé Yau Kong-Ngo (Nicholas Tse), a rising cop who ends up in prison following a significant case that was revealed in flashback. With Ngo subsequently released from prison, he has since looking to exact vengeance against Bong. It all started with Ngo and his gang of former police officers-turned-criminals (Henry Mak, Yu Kang, German Cheung and Tony Wu) sabotaged a police raid led by Bong’s superior officer, Yiu Yeuk-Sing (Ray Lui) and killed everyone on sight. Apart from Bong, he also targeted others who were responsible for his imprisonment including his former superior (Ben Yuen).
Both Donnie Yen and Nicholas Tse previously worked together in ‘Dragon Tiger Gate’ (2006) and ‘Bodyguards and Assassins’ (2009) and it’s nice to see them appearing on the same screen again. The latter was last seen leading the cast in 2017’s ‘Cook Up a Storm’ before venturing into the world of culinary as a chef and his return to Hong Kong cinema couldn’t be more timely enough. Tse is no stranger to playing antagonist roles (see ‘Shaolin’) and in ‘Raging Fire’, he does a good job displaying his rebellious charisma as the vengeful Yau Kong-Ngo. Donnie Yen is at his typically best playing the usual righteous cop role as Bong, which instantly reminded me of the same character he played in ‘SPL’ (a.k.a. ‘Kill Zone’ in the US) and ‘Flash Point’.
Back to the story, the film is a tad overlong with a few padded-out moments that could have been streamlined altogether. And frankly, this is not the first time that Benny Chan’s films have the tendencies of overstretching the story more than they should (‘Shaolin’ and ‘The White Storm’ were some of the examples in the past). Given the fact that ‘Raging Fire’ plays it straight with the familiar themes of vengeance and injustice, it could have benefited the film more if Benny settles for a more economical storytelling approach. Something that is more in line with his lean and pacy 90-minute actioner seen in 1996’s ‘Big Bullet’.
The action, in the meantime, is where Benny excels the most. Together with Donnie Yen, who also served as the film’s action director, the choreography is all thrillingly staged with enough verve and brutality. This is particularly evident during some of the visceral hand-to-hand combat set-pieces, notably Bong’s final fight against Ngo in the church. The scene itself even pays homage to ‘SPL’, complete with Bong using an expandable baton against Ngo’s butterfly knives. If that’s not enough, Nicholas Tse even emulates the fighting style of Donnie Yen and Wu Jing and he looks convincing enough in terms of his speed and agility.
And as expected in Benny’s action films, there are several well-choreographed gunfights and chases. The former has Michael Mann’s ‘Heat’-like sequence in the street and for the latter, there’s a scene worth mentioning here: a high-speed pursuit between Bong’s SUV and Ngo’s motorcycle.
Even after a year since Benny Chan’s untimely death, it is still hard to believe that we no longer get to see any of his future works after this. So, whether you are a fan of the director or Hong Kong action cinema in general, do yourself a favor and go watch ‘Raging Fire’. The film may have its fair share of shortcomings but as far as a big-budget Hong Kong action film goes, ‘Raging Fire’ remains a hugely entertaining piece of work.
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