Benny Chan ensures he goes out guns blazing in his final theatrical film.
“This society doesn’t reward good men.”
Before I get into the meat of this review, I want to acknowledge and pay tribute to one of Hong Kong’s more low-key directors. While certainly a massive deal in his native country, his thirty years in the industry have gone a little under the radar in the West, with his English-language Who Am I? as his biggest hit. Because of this, I’m glad to see he was honoured at the opening of this year’s London East Asian Film Festival.
Chan’s oeuvres have varied wildly in quality, but have always managed to, if nothing else, entertain me from start to finish. From the excellent action in New Police Story, to the genuine emotion and drama in Shaolin and even to the insane goofy fun of Metal Mayhem Chan has never failed to bring his unique twist to any project, no matter how thematically apart they might be to one another. I knew going into his last film Raging Fire that it would be at the very least spectacularly entertaining, but also hoped that one of Hong Kong’s most varied directors would end on a high.
Donnie Yan stars as Cheung Sung-bong, a no-nonsense, righteous officer of the Regional Crime Unit whose attitude has found him at odds with many officers who prefer results over process. After a drug sting is interrupted and an entire squad is killed, Bong finds himself facing off against Yau Kong-ngo (Nicholas Tse), his former prodigy who was arrested after his renegade methods led to the death of a witness to a kidnapping. Ngo and his gang, also former cops who played a role in the murder, return to Hong Kong bent on revenge against Bong and the entire department that, they believe, abandoned them at their darkest moment.
Tse is easily the standout performer of the film. While the flashbacks to him as a cop aren’t too special, Tse gets to relish in his present-day supervillainy and even gets his own One Bad Day-style Joker monologue as he slugs it out with the impossibly stoic Yen. The two have great chemistry and work really well of each other. Everyone else in the cast is good too, mind you, but it’s the conflict between these two opposing forces that makes Raging Fire work as well as it does.
Like many of Chan’s best movies, Raging Fire boasts some excellent action sequences right from the beginning. And very true to his style he never lets something as restrictive as reality slow him down, and so his film is loaded with dumb stunts that are as well executed and exciting as they are extreme and cartoonish. There’s something about seeing Donnie Yen leap out of a car to save a little girl from the very car he was just in. Thankfully there are also plenty of more grounded and much grittier fights to complement them: with notable scenes including the brawl in the slums and the final fight in the church between Bong and Ngo.
In the end, Benny Chan delivers withhis final film, and it’s exactly what you’d expect from him. There’s hints of old-school Heroic Bloodshed of John Woo, as well as a lot of modern day Hollywood-style polish. It’s hardly the most sophisticated police thriller, but in this world of tedious films about the ICAC, this kind of bombastic amusement is exactly what I needed to see, and it’s a fitting finale to Benny Chan’s thirty year blaze of glory.
Verdict: Raging Fire may be big and dumb in places, but its flames are well fanned thanks to its hero and villain dynamics, excellent action and talented cast.
Raging Fire (2021)
Also known as: 怒火
Overall entertainment: 8/10
Biggest cliché: The pregnant wife one
Iron Buddha Tea: Minimum 600 grand a catty
Car parks: Just take the stairs, Donnie, damn
Director: Benny Chan
Writers: Benny Chan, Ryan Ling, Tong Yiu-ling
Donnie Yen – Cheung Sung-bong
Nicholas Tse – Yau Kong-ngo
Ray Lui – Superintendent Yiu
Kenny Wong – Tai
Deep Ng – Chow
Jeana Ho – Turbo
Angus Yeung – Cho
Bruce Tong – Kwan
Henry Mak – Chiu
Yu Kang – Mok
German Cheung – Chu
Tony Wu – Law
Kwok Fun – Mr Fok
Qin Lan – Anna
Simon Yam – Lok Chi-fai
Ben Yuen – Commissioner Kit
Ben Lam – Au Man-kwai
Ken Lo – Ma
Patrick Tam – Yuen