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City Still on Fire

Well Go USA

Raging Fire (2021)

Donnie Yen and Nicholas Tse face off in “Raging Fire.” Finally, we have a bona fide Hong Kong action flick more than a decade after the once prolific and self-sustaining industry began to suffer a talent and capital drain mostly to the burgeoning and lucrative mainland Chinese film scene – and also to Hollywood, where Mr. Yen has landed a few supporting roles in high-profile tentpoles such as “Rogue One.”

“Raging Fire” follows a certain formula that propelled the success of franchises like “Infernal Affairs”: Ngo (Mr. Tse), ringleader of a small but lethal criminal crew, is a disgraced former cop once mentored by Bong (Mr. Yen). By-the-book to a fault, Bong is relegated to desk duties on the eve of a major drug bust due to his stubborn rebuff of a superior’s quid pro quo offer to take a bribe and turn a blind eye. Of course, the operation goes sideways because Ngo has a personal score he’s been waiting for years to settle.

This Hong Kong formula has been replicated by other film industries like France and Hollywood, recently in “Cash Truck” and its remake, “Wrath of Man.” But “Raging Fire” makes “Wrath of Man” look like child’s play both in terms of its characters’ callousness and the intricacy of the stunts attempted. In one scene, Mr. Yen jumps out of the van he’s driving just before its head-on collision with a parked tractor trailer in order to swoop to safety a child crossing the street. While production costs must be significantly higher today, the film seems to spare no expense, with vehicles barreling into and out of a store through its floor-to-ceiling windows during a car chase.

While “Raging Fire” works like a well-oiled machine, what’s shifted is Hong Kong public opinion of law enforcement because of the police brutality unleashed during recent anti-Beijing protests. The moral ambiguity long typical of Hong Kong action flicks now seems obtuse as Hong Kong increasingly becomes a police state. Though the cast here is more diverse than that of, say, “Crazy Rich Asians,” the casting of Southeast Asians as drug traffickers continues to be problematic. It’s good to see Hong Kong cinema back, and although the stunts and the filmmaking techniques are as glorious as ever, it really needs to get with the times instead of resting on its laurels.


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