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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Fire of Conscience (2010)

Hong Kong Action cinema used to be a thing of beauty, whenever the names John Woo, Ringo Lam, Tsui Hark and even Wong Jing graced title sequences you knew you were in for a full-throttled experience of bullets and bloodshed. The turn of the millennium though saw the industry come to a grinding halt, much of the talent eloped to America in search of wider fame; more money and more than likely better working conditions. The genre became stale during the late nineties, and the ‘heroic bloodshed’ genre, once loved, died its death, replacing it were gritty cop dramas like Infernal Affairs and PTU.

However, if Fire of Conscience is anything to go by, there is a talent out there by the name of Dante Lam and he’s bringing the heroic bloodshed back into Hong Kong cinema, and he’s keeping it as gritty as he is ballistic. This my friends, is one of the finest Hong Kong movies in 20 years and it cements Lam’s calling card as the man in Hong Kong cinema right now, watch out Jonnie To – there’s a new kid in the sandpit and he means business, bloody-brutal-business. For all the nice production values of recent historical blockbusters like Ip Man, Bodyguards and Assassins, Mulan and Confucius – here is what Hong Kong cinema fans have been waiting for.

Detective Manfred (Leon Lai) has had it tough, real tough. He’s lost his wife, lives out of a car, drinks hard and is obsessed with his work; all the while sporting one hell of an un-fetching beard. Due to his violent tendencies towards suspects Internal Affairs are called in to keep a watch over his methods. During the investigation of a hooker’s homicide, in which one of his team are a suspect, Manfred makes acquaintance with high-flying officer Kee (Richie Ren), the two become friends and this bound increases after a huge teahouse shoot-out forces them upon a huge explosives operation involving a crazed bomb-maker.

Taking the heroic bloodshed valour from yesteryear and injecting it into the more common police procedurals of recent, Dante Lam has created an explosive concoction that rivals the bomb-making prowess of the films antagonist. His eye for realism is matched by his overly elaborate set-pieces, from the John Woo-esque teahouse bullet ballet to the Ringo Lam style populated city chase sequence, he’s taken what has already been done yet still manages to make it feel fresh; a true sign of talent if there ever was one. The urgency in these action scenes are reminiscent of Michael Mann, but there’s an added gorilla filmmaking vibe at play here as pedestrians look on bewildered as the actors run around, bloodied up, waving automatic weapons!

There may be nothing ‘new’ so to speak with the film, story wise it’s all been done before, but from the opening shots it’s apparent that we’re going to be treated to something visually new and exciting. The level of aggression displayed in the action scenes also stand out, the guns sound terrifying when they are fired, which is often, explosions combust and make sure the surrounding area stays aflame in gritty realistic fashion, but Dante isn’t above letting some disbelief soothe in as guns seemingly have limitless magazines when needed and bullet wounds aren’t stopping anyone from continuing to blast their piece! As cartoon-y as the violence can be, the characters remain battered through-out which again adds shades of realism not normally de rigueur in Hong Kong cinema.

I could talk on and on about the great daylight shootouts and chases, or indeed the effective use of brutal violence and the lack of melodrama that normally plagues Hong Kong films, but I won’t as this film deserves to be discovered and scrutinised over and over by any self-respecting fan of Hong Kong cinema. This is the best Hong Kong film I’ve seen in years and if it doesn’t win Best Film and receive a respectful UK release I’ll take a leaf outta Manfred’s book and sport one of hell of a dishevelled beard until it gets one! This, I hope, will be the future for Hong Kong film production; tough, balls-to-the-wall actioners with its pulse on realism but its tongue never too far from its cheek when needed. Highly recommended viewing.

Purchase the DVD here.

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