Written and Directed by Benny Chan
Starring Donnie Yen, Nicholas Tse, Jeana Ho
“This society doesn’t reward good men.”
Fans of Hong Kong cinema were devastated when director Benny Chan died from cancer in August of 2020 at the age of 58.
A tremendous loss for the Action film world, Chan was the director on many great films in the genre.
A six-time Hong Kong Awards nominee, Chan announced his skills in a big way with 1992’s “Tin joek yay ching” (“A Moment of Romance”). The film was an international smash and became one of the most popular and imitated HK Action films of its day.
Chan continued his rise as one of Hong Kong’s finest filmmakers with respected and exciting works such as 1993’s Wuxia-tinged epic “The Magic Crane”, 1996’s award winning Crime thriller “Big Bullet”, the 1998 Jackie Chan Action-Comedy “Who Am I?”, the uber-exciting “Gen-X Cops” and its equally fun sequel, “Gen-Y Cops”, and the modern Jackie Chan classic “New Police Story” from 2004.
The filmmaker had a sharp style that distinguished many of his films and put him side by side with HK masters such as John Woo, Tsui Hark, Johnnie To, and Ringo Lam.
With the death of both Chan and Ringo Lam, Hong Kong Action cinema lost two of its most unique voices.
Benny Chan left us with one final film, and that film is a full-on treasure.
“Raging Fire” stars action legend Donnie Yen as Cheung Sung-bong, a decorated policeman who is the ever popular “one good cop in a sea of corruption.” His team of five are all good cops as well, but almost everyone else (especially the higher-ups) falls prey to various forms of dishonest police practices.
In his division Cheung is a bit of an outcast, as his righteousness is somehow looked down upon by his superiors.
While his team respects him, the “suits” who run the force do not care for his flawless reputation nor his hero status that so many look up to.
This is a world where greed (professional and personal) lead men down crooked paths while the honorable deeds of honest men are all but ignored.
Punished for being a good cop who refuses to be corrupted, Cheung is unfairly shut out of a four-years-in-the-planning sting operation that sees his current partner killed.
The gang responsible is led by his former partner and protege Yau Kong-ngo (the great Nicholas Tse, on complete fire here and full of smirking viciousness). Yau has been in prison for years due to the testimony Cheung was forced to give against him regarding misconduct. Yau is all but the ghost of the police officer he once was. He has fallen far from grace and now embraces his life as a pure criminal.
As Fate smiles its devilish grin, Cheung and Yau’s paths have crossed again. This time, and for both men, the path is one of retribution and death.
Chan’s screenplay is as perfect as his filmmaking. There are many facets to this film and Chan lays them all out in with a skillful hand. This is much more than good cop versus bad. The character development is strong, making the drama hit as hard as the punches.
The action moments are something to see. As with the best Hong Kong Action cinema, the stunt work and fight choreography are awe inspiring.
As the director of the fight choreography, Donnie Yen gets his time to shine with sequences where his artistry in the Martial Arts is on full display. The best of his moments is where he must fight his way out of a room with 20-plus “baddies” blocking the exit and wanting his head. With fists, feet, pepper spray, and clubs, Yen makes it out if that room in a stunning scene of pure fight choreography genius. At 58 years old, Donnie Yen is not slowing down!
One of the edgiest “battles” in “Raging Fire” comes in the form of an intense and brilliantly executed chase between a motorcycle and a car where, at one point (and guided by its rider), the motorcycle attacks the other car like a charging bull! It is a jaw-dropping moment that modern Hollywood action films could only dream of conjuring up, let alone pulling off without CGI.
Chan works his way to the final duel between Cheung and Yau by leading into it with an homage to Michael Mann’s 1995 Crime epic, “Heat”. Yau is even dressed like De Niro’s character from that film, complete with black suit, sunglasses, and black satchel draped over his shoulder.
In this relentlessly exciting scene, Cheung leads his police down the crowded Hong Kong streets in a blazing gun battle with Yau and his men. As machine guns blaze and bullets fill the streets, Chan one-ups Mann’s masterful sequence by making this one longer, bigger, and even more brutal. This is truly action filmmaking at its absolute finest.
With camerawork (courtesy of Yuen Man Fung) and lighting design as exciting as his action sequences and featuring actual hardcore stunt work (the Chinese stunt teams are the finest in the world!), Bennie Chan has crafted one of the most exciting and supremely interesting films of 2021.
With thrilling action and fervent drama in equal measure, “Raging Fire” is a great film where destiny and fate guide the lives of two men who exist in a violent world. A fitting swan song from an action master that is one of the finest of his career.
NR, 126 minutes, Well-Go USA