When Bong’s (Donnie Yen) sting operation is ambushed by a group of well-trained thugs, it puts him on a collision course with his former protégé Ngo (Nicholas Tse). Ngo is an ex-cop and now leads a band of former cops turned criminal against the justice system that turned its back on them, including Ngo’s former mentor Bong.
Benny Chan’s Raging Fire takes the stereotypical story of good cop vs former good cop and gives audiences a marvelous spectacle, but the story makes some of the same mistakes as other cop dramas. That said, Raging Fire stands head and shoulders above other action films despite the clichés.
One of the weaknesses of this film is the number of flashbacks. The film bounces back and forth between the event that led to Ngo’s downfall. This storytelling technique is common in this genre, but the desired effect feels like a forced way to flesh out the relationship between Bong and Ngo. The brief montage shows the police force all playing games, and it’s mostly done without dialogue. The sequence itself is fine, but that’s pretty much all we get as far as the relationship between the two before their falling out. The placement of the sequence also feels out of place, since it takes place long after Ngo’s introduction.
The other issue this movie faces is the time spent on lengthy details in the cop procedures such as court cases, interrogations, and raids. Again, these elements are well defined in this type of film, but the early raids don’t coincide to the events that lead up to them. The locations appear to be selected via instinct than driven by evidence or any rationale. Fortunately, one of the raids brings Bong to a shanty town that pays off in a spectacular action set piece, but more on that in a bit.
Similarly, the interrogation of Ngo is an interesting one. He comes to the precinct to file a missing person’s report – it’s part of his plan, and he even toys with the police offering to be interrogated for 48 hours. Bong must let Ngo go since they lack the evidence to arrest him, but not before they find out Bong’s wife is being held as a hostage in a bomb threat. That’s another problem, Bong’s wife Lan Quin seems to only exist to be used as a plot device.
Yen’s performance is good, but Bong is a flat character. He’s always doing the right thing, so there isn’t a whole lot for Yen to work with. However, he shines when he’s engaged in the action. In the showdown at the shantytown, Yen does a lot of stunt work, but the impressive part is that a lot of it is somewhat unrefined. Up to this point, there’s a lot more gunplay than martial arts. The way Yen fights these thugs is more like a bar fight than a martial arts exhibition. He tackles people to the ground and through much of the set.
Yuen Man Fung’s cinematography not only frames the fight in the claustrophobic space but gives it a level of art when he goes overhead during the chase sequence. Grimy areas that are reminiscent of the Los Angeles River/drain system look picturesque thanks to Fung’s shots. The final showdown between Bong and Ngo in a renovated church is also very stylish. Again, Fung stages the shots dramatically and Chou Tak Fu’s production design give the church a stylish quality. You could imagine John Wick shooting his way out of there. Except this fight surprisingly takes place without the use of any firearms, despite the massive gunfire and explosions that took place moments just before.
Tse’s Ngo is an interesting character because he’s the typical good cop who is turned bad because of a flawed justice system. Tse plays the character so effortlessly switching between calm and collected to full tilt killer when he executes one of his men for bringing too much heat and attention to their operation. The performance is so nuanced that he crosses the line into tragic character. As Ngo delivers his final line, it’s hard for one not to think that maybe Bong and Ngo could have ended up in the same place if their roles were reversed.
Ultimately then, Raging Fire delivers on the action even if the movie does get bogged down in the tropes of the genre.
Additional Comments: The Big Comic Page was provided a screener of the movie. A behind the scenes featurette is included on the Blu-ray and DVD which is available Nov 23. Raging Fire is also available on Digital and streaming on the martial arts and Asian action movie platform Hi-YAH!
The writer of this piece is: Laurence Almalvez
Laurence tweets from @IL1511