By: John M Jerva
THE REVIEW: When Donnie Yen officially said goodbye to the Asian Kung Fu subgenre which essentially made him a martial arts action god, many fans, myself included, wondered what would be next for the icon as he definitely has plenty of spit and fire left in the tank after all these years. Yen, of course, has made many different types of flicks ranging from the aforementioned Kung Fu epics to modern day cop thrillers infused with blistering, bone cracking MMA fight action. Donnie is one of those rare performers that literally elevates any film he’s in with his oozing charisma, almost impeccable personality and especially his on screen fighting skills. Yen can do it all but if he’s not going to dabble in period epics or wire-fu masterpieces, then what could possibly be next?
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you defense exhibit A. Raging Fire is here and with that we can all breathe a collective sigh of relief as Yen has shown us that he will still firmly thrust the action cinema industry firmly on his shoulders. The film, which recalls Michael Mann’s cinematic work of art Heat, is a present day police thriller that not only delivers the action fans are craving for but it also digs into character development giving us characters that we actually care about when things start blowing up, bullets start flying and the fists and feet begin to soar through the air.
Let’s talk plot first shall we? Yen stars as seasoned and battle tested police detective Cheung Sung-bong who is the last of a dying breed of cop who is known for putting the most dangerous cases to rest but at times, his unwillingness to turn a blind eye to some crimes leaves him on the outside looking in with the brass who are not all on the up and up.
The powers that be serve to show Cheung a lesson by omitting him from a sting operation that was years in the making. To add salt to the wound, his partner is killed during the operation and the culprit is none other than Ngo (Nicholas Tse) who was once a friend and colleague.
Ngo (Nicholas Tse) is back with a vengeance after he was imprisoned for manslaughter and he wants to take down anyone and everyone who was responsible for his incarceration. Of course, Cheung is the main culprit in putting Ngo away so he’s firmly placed in the crosshairs of Ngo and his team of professionals.
With the pawns set firmly in place on the chessboard, the city is about to turn into a battle zone as Cheung and Ngo’s rivalry will pour onto the streets. Blood will flow, things will blow up in spectacular fashion and the audience will get their fill of firepower and fisticuffs.
Raging Fire comes to us with a heavy heart as this was the last directorial project for the late, great action maestro Benny Chan who has given us countless hours of adrenaline infused action throughout the years. Chan sadly passed away after filming due to cancer leaving a void in the Asian action cinema community.
It’s fitting though as this film is Chan’s last as it is everything fans can want in a vehicle starring Donnie Yen and more. Although it’s not directly the non stop action extravaganza the trailers made it out to be, it still is by far the best action film of the year and we’ve desperately needed a film like this with the last few years we’ve endured
Chan’s action opus is a surging powder keg of action though, no worries, but it’s just not action for action sake. There’s meaning behind the bloodshed and there’s also ample time for plot and characterization as we get a host of characters with some meat on the bone. It’s certainly refreshing to see the characters fleshed out more than in the usual action fair.
The director’s screenplay is polished and eventful and it pays definite homage to the aforementioned Heat with Yen and Tse serving up the juicy roles that were done so well by Pacino and DeNero. Only better is the fact that the two leads were once allies which makes the drama even more palatable and nothing against Mann’s epic, this heightens the story ten fold.
This is without a doubt one of Yen’s best performances and it’s great to see him shine in the quieter moments as well. Yen doesn’t even have to speak a word and yet he says so much and here he is in top form in both dramatic and action elements.
Nicholas Tse gives it his all as well and here he is clearly having fun playing such a nasty role. What makes it even more memorable is the fact that his character of Ngo was once one of the good guys. Unfortunately, things went awry and that person is long gone and in his place is pure and unadulterated evil. He doesn’t care who he has to hurt to get his revenge and we get to see what has transformed him in flashbacks. That person of integrity and honor is gone and hell have no fury as a one time man of honor scorned.
The action is center stage of course with Yen once again serving as action director and he’s left nothing to chance as the sequences are all top tier with the highlights being the grand street firefight in the finale along with Yen’s brutal display of martial arts wizardry as he shows us that even in his 50’s, he’s not loss a step.
One could say that the climatic street war is synonymous with Heat’s legendary shoot out but I feel that this one upstages that one, if possible, as it’s more brutal and longer leaving the audience sweating and exhausted just as much as the participants in the film. It’s a non-stop barrage of bullets and carnage that will satisfy even the most jaded action fan and it’s worth the price of admission alone. It’s that good and it qualifies as one of my favorites hands down.
Make no mistake, even though this movie is more rat-tat-tat then face smashing beatdowns, Yen gets plenty of opportunity to showcase his signature, lethal skills as one of the best in action cinema. A definite highlight is a brawl in a Hong Kong slum with Yen’s Flashpoint co-star Ben Lam as both men throw themselves into the scene and it looks painful to say the least and the choreography is second to none.
Let’s not forget about Yen running a gauntlet of thugs who are blocking his exit in one pulsating sequence. He throws everything at them and the kitchen sink leaving viewers to want to watch it multiple times. There’s just something about a one on many affair when Yen’s involved and the man assuredly knows how to put one of these types of fight scenes together to make it believable and kick ass all at the same time. All the empty handed wars are satisfying and bloody brutal which is lacking these days.
Watching Yen do what he does best has always been a treat and even though he might not be making old school Kung Fu flicks anymore, this will certainly suffice and no one kicks better than Donnie. His choreography is like a balletic pieces of bone jarring chaos and it clearly points out that Asian action fight sequences are always the ones to beat.
It’s truly sad that Benny Chan is gone and that we won’t be seeing anymore heart pumping output from him but this is the icing on the cake of a storied career and what better piece of celluloid to leave us with than this action opera. Stick around for the credits as there is a nice tribute to Benny with some behind the scenes footage as well.
Donnie Yen can almost do no wrong and with Raging Fire, he and Chan have crafted something truly special. It’s a layered action-thriller that is equal parts adrenaline and emotion. The script allows the cast to be more than just stunt professionals and the action…well, the action is sensational. In the last few years, we have been craving an action film with substance and here it is. An in your face operatic action spectacle and master class that does it right and is worthy of being called one of Donnie Yen’s best, if not the best. Class is in session and Professor Yen will be your teacher.