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The Four 2

Andy Lau goes ballistic in Firestorm.
Chinese: 風暴
Year: 2013
Director: Alan Yuen Kam-Lun
Producer: Bill Kong, Andy Lau Tak-Wah, Rosanna Ng Wai-San, Cheung Hong-Tat, Ren Yue,
Chan Pui-Wah, Dele Liu, Cheung Hong-tat, Zhang Yuancheng, Allen Zhu
Writer: Alan Yuen Kam-Lun
Action: Chin Kar-Lok

Andy Lau Tak-Wah, Yao Chen, Gordon Lam Ka-Tung, Hu Jun, Ray Lui Leung-Wai, Philip Keung Ho-Man, Kenny Wong Tak-Bun, Oscar Leung Lit-Wai, Michael Wong Mun-Tak, Jacqueline Chan, Bonnie Xian, Michael Tong Man-Lung, Vincent Sze, Terence Yin, Hiro Hayama, Bob Lam, Cheung Kwok-Keung, Brian Siswojo, Phat Chan, Chan Bo-Yuen, Lo Hoi-Pang, Ben Wong Chi-Yin, Wong Cho-Lam, Sammy Hung Tin-Chiu, Eddie Cheung Siu-Fai, Alex Tsui Ka-Kit, Grace Wong

  The Skinny: Big and entertaining if not completely quality, Firestorm is the Hong Kong equivalent of a Hollywood action blockbuster. The CGI-enabled destruction and fast pacing make up for the overly-serious tone, ridiculous physics and poor story development. Starring Andy Lau as the cop version of the Terminator.
by Kozo:

It’s got problems, but Firestorm has a wow factor few Hong Kong movies can claim. Edko Films’ latest production arrived in cinemas without one of the studios’ notorious “quality” marketing campaigns (self-fluffing talking head trailers where crew members rave about how awesome the movie is), opting instead for a campaign built on massive explosions and dynamic gunplay. Also: Andy Lau. The perennially popular Lau is still a powerful draw for the casual filmgoer, not to mention your fifty-something mom and probably her mom too. The People’s Idol stars as Lui Ming-Chit, a righteous inspector out to stop bad guys from doing bad things. Lui’s foe is childhood friend and convicted criminal Tao Shing-Bong (Gordon Lam), who leaves prison for the happy embrace of girlfriend Bing (Yao Chen). She asks that Bong give up crime to walk the straight and narrow, and has even arranged a new job for his post-prison life. Bong agrees, but this is only the beginning of the movie, so you know that can’t last.

Within days, Bong is back planning armed heists under the leadership of ridiculously confident criminal mastermind Cao Nan (Hu Jun). After a successful armored car robbery, Bong is brought in as a suspect and Inspector Lui asks him to become a police mole. Bong says “no” without hesitation, and resumes committing crimes and lying to his girlfriend without conscience. Meanwhile, Cao Nan shows up at the police station in a pretentiously casual manner and taunts the cops because they lack the evidence to arrest him. Lui is incensed at this trolling but he’s kept busy by Cao Nan’s continuing crimes, as well as frequent run-ins with a masked Bong, who’s still doing bad things while pretending to be reformed. In an effort to quell Cao Nan’s crime wave, Lui enlists ex-con Tong (Keung Ho-Man) as a mole, with Tong enthusiastically agreeing so that he can earn more money for his developmentally-challenged daughter (Jacqueline Chan). Then, IT ALL GOES TO HELL.

On a kinetic level, Firestorm entertains handily. The film starts intense and stays that way, pushing forward relentlessly with solid tension and strong action beats. There are perfunctory character moments but the fast pace and frequent set pieces maintain momentum. Characters are drawn distinctly; Lui and Bong are established from the get-go as the righteous cop and the unrepentant criminal, respectively. Still, despite his quick return to crime, Bong does have a decent streak, as he’s kind to Bing and is never seen hurting anyone (though that could be happening offscreen). Formula would dictate that as the stakes rise and more innocents are endangered, Lui and Bong will find a way to work together and even more Infernal Affairs-like imagery will be invoked. However, Firestorm does both the expected and unexpected; one of its main characters ends up choosing the predictable path, while the other is given a surprising arc that spins the film in a darker and more pessimistic direction.

Unfortunately, the characters aren’t fully realized. In Bong’s case, the film requires a better actor than Gordon Lam, who’s numbingly two-dimensional. Bong needs to show more inner emotions, but Lam’s portrayal lacks layers and seems entirely informed by the script. By contrast, Lui’s evolution is more compelling, and allows Andy Lau to give a more complex and darker performance. Lau excels at this sort of role (see Infernal Affairs), but his changes feel out-of-character. The story needs more detail or build-up to show us what Lui is a capable of, both good and bad. Other characters serve their purposes decently, with Yao Chen drawing the short straw as the girlfriend who’s essentially someone else’s story prop. Firestorm barrels forward like an intense action-thriller but requires the developed backstory and psychological nuance of a character drama. Director-writer Alan Yuen guns for the former, ultimately hurting the film’s deeper aspirations.

The action is something else, though. Firestorm blows the lid off of Hong Kong urban action, not with over-the-top choreography (Tsui Hark’s Time and Tide wins that award), but with sheer scale. Breaking glass and bone-shattering impact inform the film’s vehicular and building-set action, while the climactic gun battle turns Queens Road in Central into a warzone, with civilian casualties filling rubble-strewn streets. The scale of the pyrotechnics is pretty much a first for Hong Kong film, and there’s a cathartic rush in seeing familiar streets getting destroyed like Hollywood blows up American landmarks in their CGI-orgy blockbusters. The action does strain credibility; police are laughably inept and some moments are patently ridiculous. Andy Lau’s character is thrown around like a ragdoll from basically minute one, such that he should be suffering from a dislocated everything. Yet during the third act, he’s still chugging along, machine gun in hand and hair perfectly arranged. Hey, what can you do? He’s Andy Lau.

Firestorm’s blowout action places it a cut above similar Hong Kong fare, using high-impact set pieces and overly-intense acting to wallpaper over a thin script and poor development. There are smaller joys too; Keung Ho-Man is quite good in his blustery, over-acting role and Michael Wong turns up in an unintentionally funny cameo as the vain and blithely cynical police commissioner. Sadly, Hu Jun is underused as the bad guy, whose suave and playful villainy make him a standout in a sea of too-serious crime film archetypes. The story predictably does not challenge any of SAPPRFT’s notorious content guidelines, which turns the script’s exploration of cop/criminal shades of grey into a pointless exercise. That’s a high-level quibble, though, and this is not a high-level film. Firestorm works as an entertaining and only moderately intelligent commercial film, and is suitable for the casual, less discerning moviegoer who’s more than satisfied with two hours of seat-rumbling, speaker-shaking distraction. Hey, sometimes seat-rumbling can be pretty swell. (Kozo, 12/2013)

Notes: • This review is based on the 2D version of the film.
Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Edko Films Ltd. (HK)
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc
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