Firestorm [Fung Bou] is the kind of genre film Hong Kong has been yearning for a long time. A true revival of the police/action flick, low on artistic merits but delivering in spades when it comes to explosive, gun-toting entertainment. Alan Yuen helms the film like a true veteran, hopefully launching his career as a director for real. Hong Kong action fans, rejoice!
Alan Yuen has been around for a while now, writing/adapting screenplays and directing the odd film when the opportunity presented itself. Back in 2002 he wrote/directed Seung Fei (Princess D), a brave and laudable little sci-fi romance which sadly failed to find an international audience. Yuen worked with Benny Chan on Shaolin and Rob-B-Hood and finally got a new break with Firestorm. And it seems that, at least for Yuen, three time's a charm.
It's not like there haven't been good police (action/)thrillers coming out of Hong Kong in the past few years (think For Lung, Du Zhan or Gun Chung), but these were films that aimed a bit higher than the mere genre tropes they represented. Firestorm is little more than a rock solid police thriller that isn't too preoccupied with showing off the director's skills, instead putting its genre clichés front and center and polishing them to meet modern standards. At least, that goes for the first 90 minutes.
The film follows Lui, a dedicated police officer who prefers to do things by the book. Until one day he gets assigned to the case of Cao, the leader of a violent gang of cash truck robbers. When a first attempt at arrest fails and shortly after Lui's mole in discovered by Cao, Lui slowly crosses over to the dark side, jeopardizing his own career together with the well-being of the people around him.
Firestorm is a fine-looking film without being too obvious about it. The muted color palette definitely helps, the fact that most of the CG is pretty convincing (a few moments excluded) didn't hurt either. There are a few great effect shots, the editing is snappy and the camera work sufficiently dynamic, yet the overall impression is one of visual modesty. Yuen strikes a good balance here, though a little extra visual polish wouldn't have hurt.
The soundtrack is pretty generic action stuff. Some crescendos, a little extra pathos and lots of music that does little more than trade silence for noise. It's not a bad soundtrack in itself, but chances are you can't remember a single note once the film's done. The sound effects do stand out though, the explosions and gun rattlings in particular are a true treat to the ear.
While the cast in its entirety is decent enough, this is really an Andy Lau solo show. Lui's character is practically tailored to Lau's persona. The man is well over 50 by now but still has plenty of charisma to pull off the stunts and police work with convincing flair. Ka Tung Lam and Jun Hu are solid in their supporting roles, Michael Wong also turned up for a minor cameo.
The first 90 minutes are good, old-fashioned police fun. Some nice action scenes, a few solid chases and a fair amount of double-crossing would've made Firestorm the perfect candidate for my prime movie filler series. The finale is something else though. A 30-minute thrill of a ride, the perfect build-up of violence, explosions and gunfire. Fifteen minutes in I felt this was something special, but it just kept getting better and better.
Yuen clearly saved the best for last here and it paid off. The film has no apparent lows, but it has one sprawling high at the very end which left me quite impressed. It's been a while since I saw such an enthralling action scene, perfectly introduced by the 90 minutes that came before. Yuen has talent and with the right people surrounding him this could be the start of an interesting career. If you don't like police/action thrillers there's probably little here for you, but if you do this is a prime example of Hong Kong mastery of the genre.