Alan Yuen’s “Firestorm” (風暴) – 2013 ScreenSingapore Film Review

(Note: This review is based off the Mandarin-language public screening at Resorts World Sentosa, which was not shown in 3-D.)

Andy Lau Tak Wah (劉德華) has certainly taken his share of risks during the past several years, investing in stories and filmmakers who may not have had a chance otherwise.  The results have been hit-or-miss.  The hits include the backing of Ning Hao when the mainland Chinese director was just starting out and “Gallants,” a kung-fu comedy featuring martial arts stars of yesteryear that would not have seen the light of day had Lau not financed the whole thing.  A recent miss was his lead role in this past fall’s 3-D action film “Shield,” for which Lau actually made a public apology.

Enter another project where Lau has placed faith in new talent, this time rookie director Alan Yuen with yet another take on the Hong Kong police genre.  “Firestorm,” which made its world premiere in Singapore with the backing of Lau – one of nine co-executive producers on this film – has been touted as one of the most “local” Hong Kong works in years.  Shot at a budget of US$20 million, Lau headlines “Firestorm” as Inspector Lui, who struggles to enforce the law when he cannot quite separate personal friendships from work.  Opposing him is the talented Gordon Lam Ka Tung (林家棟, finally and deservedly in a prime role) as his former high school buddy, Tao, gone bad.  Naturally, both face moral dilemmas as, soon after Tao is let out of prison, he immediately gets himself back into trouble with a series of heists.  Inspector Lui’s side becomes the hunters and Tao’s the hunted, but it is the latter group that always seems to have the upper hand.  When a series of chases results in the ex-buddies throwing punches and kicks atop a wired pane impossibly propped up between two buildings well above ground, it is riveting fare.

However, that is one of many problems in “Firestorm”: that scene, which could have served as part of a climactic finale, occurs well before the midpoint of the story.  The rest of the film becomes stuffed with too many elements, resulting in uneven pacing, half-hearted attempts at character development, unnecessary sped-up and slowed-down shots, and, perhaps in an eagerness to take advantage of 3-D technology, gunfight after bombing after explosion.  Local only in setting, the comparisons to other Hong Kong cop films like the calculating “Infernal Affairs” trilogy and fast-paced “Cold War” are inevitable.  While both of those box office successes offered creative takes on the genre, “Firestorm” appears to go down the checklist of tried and true elements.  A mole in the force and/or on the bad guys’ side? Check.  Michael Wong playing Lau’s boss in a movie?  Check.  Straddling the line between good and evil?  Check.  At some point, the viewer has seen enough – simply because the viewer has seen it all before.

“Firestorm” made its world premiere at ScreenSingapore 2013.  It will open the Asia-Pacific Film Festival in Macau on Dec. 12, and will be released on various dates across Asia throughout December.

Video: Andy Lau and Gordon Lam Onstage Q&A Excerpts – ScreenSingapore “Firestorm” World Premiere – Dec. 4, 2013 (in Mandarin)
video by Yuan-Kwan Chan / Meniscus Magazine

Video: Andy Lau and Gordon Lam Red Carpet Q&A Excerpts – ScreenSingapore “Firestorm” World Premiere – Dec. 4, 2013 (in Mandarin)
video by Yuan-Kwan Chan / Meniscus Magazine