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Firestorm, the latest action thriller starring Andy Lau, is a character
study trying to burst out of its commercial contraptions. The
commercial aspects is a cops and robbers film with the volume turned up
to eleven. Every moment is crucial. One can almost take the last frame
of every shot, matte it and make a comic book out of the whole movie.
The hidden art-house aspects are the character study of its two leads
and the morality play of right and wrong, which emanates later in the
story. Director Alan Yuen keeps things moving along, artfully combining
these two components in such a way that there's never time for the
audience to stop and think. For most of it, Firestorm is a fun ride.
Andy Lau leads the film sufficiently as the film's righteous hero, but
the heavy lifting comes with a cost. Senior Inspector Lui is mostly an
action-oriented role. And he only gets interesting till the later
portion when the Infernal Affairs-like morality play begins. It's only
then Lau holsters his gun and gets to chew some scenery.
It is great to see Gordon Lam, Hong Kong's most versatile working
character actor, finally play a lead role in a feature film. Out of the
two leads, Lam has the more complex character. Andy Lau is billed as
the lead on the poster, but the story is arguably more about Gordon
Lam. He's never given a bad performance and here he is the heart of the
story. Yao Chen, who I thought would be a love interest for Andy Lau's
character (as it usually would), is the romantic love interest for
Gordon Lam. I doubt a modern working woman in this day and age will
tolerate a convict boyfriend to the level that she does, but Yao Chen
brings a much-needed believability to the situation by reacting.
For what the film does for Gordon Lam, it falls short with veteran
actors Hu Jun and Ray Lui, who are oddly undeveloped villains. This is
not the way to use actors of their caliber; they deserve better.
Michael Wong also has a cameo as Andy Lau's boss. Does Wong treat every
Chinese film producer to dinner every week or has comprising photos of
them? He tries to be subtle, which for him means trying to whisper his
lines in a high-pitched voice as if he breathed vials of helium before
each take. He is god awful as usual, but fortunately there is very
little of him.
The action sequences are all entertaining and it is impressive how they
are all set in in busy Hong Kong locales. There's a sufficient amount
of design going into the 3D for its action scenes; everybody uses
tracer ammunition (which highlights the bullet trajectory) and there's
a noteworthy portion with birds. One particular high wire action set
piece got too ridiculous. Let's just say if I was dangling at a high
altitude, I wouldn't purposely slam the scaffolding that's hoisting me.
The finale shootout in Central's Queen Street is the price of
admission. Suffice to say, mayhem ensues. For any Airsoft fans out
there, with all the Hong Kong police uniforms, SWAT gear, guns and
muzzle flash that appears on screen, this will be Disneyland for you.
To match its drama with an epic operatic grandeur, Firestorm's story is
built around the metaphor of an oncoming typhoon blowing towards Hong
Kong. As my creative writing teacher once said about one of my short
stories, "Your pathetic fallacy is pathetic." Sorry, it is too over-
the-top at times. For example, Peter Kam's bombastic operatic score is
akin to a Final Fantasy game. It sounded like a choir of angels were
chanting for Andy Lau's survival through the gunfire. The work Peter
Kam done on Isabella and Throwdown has shown subtlety and used music as
a way to bring the audience into its world. I noticed that the quiet
contemplative score sounded one octave away from the Infernal Affairs
score. This is not Kam's fault. I imagine this is the product of
financiers citing references based on past box office success. Let's
face it, current Chinese and Hong Kong cinema is becoming a producer's
I was aware of how much commercial box ticking was going on throughout
the film, but they were never overtly blatant enough to bother my
enjoyment. Whenever Firestorm was being too loud and bashing my head,
it was the hidden artsy choices, like Gordon Lam in a lead role, the
undercover story arc with its morality play, that lifted it back up for
me. It's a fun time at the movies and if you're going to see it, the 3D
version will not disappoint.
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Tags for Firestorm Full Movie
, Chen Yao
, Jun Hu
, Ka Tung Lam
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