Film Review: ‘Raging Fire’ 《怒火》Is This Year’s Asian Action Blockbuster to Beat5 min readReading Time: 4 minutes
While conducting a raid to arrest a drug lord, the police encounter a team of masked thugs. In a stunning act of sabotage, the thugs steal the drugs and murder the police officers on the scene. Arriving late, Inspector Cheung Shung-bong (Donnie Yen) is devastated to see the brutal aftermath of the carnage. Bong discovers that the cop killers are led by Ngo (Nicholas Tse), a former fellow cop.
Director: Benny Chan
Cast: Donnie Yen, Nicholas Tse, Jeano Ho
Country: Hong Kong
Runtime: 126 minutes
Even after three decades at the forefront of Hong Kong action cinema, Raging Fire 《怒火》makes it poignantly clear that acclaimed director Benny Chan had absolutely no intention of slowing down before his untimely death in 2020. What burns most intensely in the action blockbuster isn’t its star power or its bevvy of gunfire and explosions, but — on phenomenal display here — Chan’s love for both the genre and for Hong Kong film.
As far as Asian blockbusters go, it would seem exceptionally difficult to top Raging Fire’s scale and spectacle. Two titans of Hong Kong cinema clash and transform the city’s dense streets into a full-fledged war zone. The action hardly relents, with a seemingly endless deluge of expertly choreographed action set pieces that will leave jaws on cinema floors. Just about everything is turned up to eleven — although not necessarily always in favour of quality over quantity.
Raging Fire centres on the war between Inspector Bong (Donnie Yen) and former cop Ngo (Nicholas Tse). Cheung is an unwavering defender of peace, steadfast in his morals and unmoved by the politics of the police force. Both Bong and Ngo were once colleagues before Ngo was thrown under the bus by the upper echelon for a case gone sideways. After serving their sentence and being tortured by the same criminals they put in jail, Ngo and his squad of ex-cops plot to dismantle the force that took everything away from them.
It’s a war that will stretch Hong Kong’s entire cityscape from its dingy backstreets to its commercial centres. The city is almost a character in itself with how locales match the mood of its characters. Not unlike the interpretations and imaginations shared by the city’s action cinema golden age, Raging Fire’s Hong Kong is a haven for lawlessness. Police work is imbued with urgency. Police heroes describe their work with the same intensity given towards epic clashes between good and evil, facing off against criminals with arsenals that match — but more often surpass — theirs.
All of this makes for a delightful playground that action genre fans will surely relish their time in. Raging Fire approaches its set-pieces with an explosive concoction of grittiness, awe-inspiring scale, and absurdism.
Even without pools of blood or gore, fistfights and gunfights are terrifyingly effective at eliciting winces and squirms. Bodies drop at an exceptional rate, dispatched by leading characters who walk off bone-shattering injuries like it’s just another day in the office. It’s all in good fun though. The action gets ridiculous but never feel completely unrealistic — perhaps except for one scene in particular. From the camera work to the seemingly minimal use of computer effects, every effort is made to capture the scope of the carnage and to ensure that audiences are able to savour all the thrills.
Where the film stumbles is when the foot is taken off the pedal. Breathers are found with the film’s plot-driven moments detailing a tale of betrayal and vengeance. However, the story takes far too long to flesh out; the film only catches up with its synopsis 30 minutes in. Frequent flashbacks (even of scenes minutes prior) drain the film’s urgency while unnecessary detours accomplish little except to pad the runtime. It’s a pained assessment, especially when the well-treaded story itself would be even more gripping if its pace matched the action.
Regardless, more of Raging Fire also means more of Donnie Yen and Nicholas Tse. Both leads are tremendous at representing their roles but are given few opportunities by the script for character development — although it really isn’t necessary for the story’s purpose. The tension comes exactly from how the pair represents two immovable forces, with their titanic clash supplying more than enough emotional drama to fuel the thrill ride.
Yen is engagingly stoic in his role, with outbursts only reserved for passionate defences for justice and righteousness. Tse, on the other hand, is provided more leeway for range. With a look surely inspired by a certain professional wrestler, his heel turn from a rising star within the police force to a deranged psycho killer is fantastically executed thanks to Tse’s magnetic presence. It’s a slow burn that culminates with an absolutely stunning showdown between the two, made all the more spectacular by the deftly felt emotions behind every punch.
Raging Fire was never meant to be director Chan’s swan song. Yet, not unlike a large portion of his films, there is still a lingering sense of poignant finality. Every action set piece is approached with nothing short of a full measure. Raging Fire is a textbook definition of a fantastic Hong Kong action blockbuster, made by a director who was integral in putting the city’s film industry — its stars, its stories and its dreams — on the map.
Raging Fire is now in theatres islandwide.