As human beings, to strive for continuous improvement is an admirable trait. But as movie audiences, our increasing appetite for bigger and better experiences isn’t necessarily bringing out the best in our filmmakers. Amongst the explosions, 3D effects and flying bullets everywhere, we seem to have forgotten a strong storyline is the essential ingredient for any good movie.
The first 3D police action movie from Hong Kong, “Firestorm” (風暴) is produced by and stars one of the most recognizable faces in Chinese (arguably Asian) entertainment – Andy Lau, who at 52 years old still has an imposing screen presence. He plays Inspector Lui, a straight-arrow type police officer who is pursuing a group of daring robbers. Inspector Lui is so ‘by the book’, that even during an operation he would get out of his car to throw rubbish in a bin. The robbers stage elaborate heists and are not afraid to challenge the police to catch them. With the escalating death toll, Inspector Lui is caught between his moral obligation to do the right thing, or whether he should bend the rules to see justice done. Does the end justify the means?
Even though Andy Lau is pretty much the star of this movie, the main problem is that very little time is actually spent developing his character. What’s his background? Does he have any family? Why is he such a straight arrow? Even if we accept his background ‘as is’, one of the key plot developments is when he starts to bend the rules just to catch the leader of the robbery gang – Cho Nam (Hu Jun). The police had Cho Nam under surveillance for a long time, they all know he did it, but they just never have enough evidence to put him through the justice system. Whilst there was a trigger in this change in Inspector Lui’s behavior, it feels a bit lackluster, or maybe I think it was completely overshadowed by the stories of two supporting characters – Tong Keung (Philip Keung) and To Sing Bong (Gordon Lam).
If Inspector Lui is the good person straying to the dark side, then our two supporting characters are seemingly bad guys trying to do the right thing. Both released from prison on the same day, while Tong Keung tries to provide a better life for his daughter by becoming an undercover for Inspector Lui, Bong goes back to a life of crime, although he is having second thoughts because he also wants a future with girlfriend Yin Bing (Yao Chen). Personally, I probably enjoyed watching Tong Keung’s story more, Philip Keung plays him with an understated determination. If you are a HK movie watcher, then Philip is the type of actor you know you’ve seen before but never quite know the name of. In contrast Gordon Lam, who has been in many supporting roles since leaving TVB, is probably at his closest to a lead role, but I’m not sure whether he will ever have the screen presence to carry an entire movie? His performance is fairly standard here, nothing outstanding. And these days to cater for Mainland audiences there must be a token Chinese actress in a male-dominated movie? I have only heard of Yao Chen’s name before since she has the most followers on weibo but otherwise she does have more screentime than other token females in similar movies. But it’s really a role where a number of other people could’ve played it. There was nothing out of the ordinary there. The villains in Firestorm are also lacking in development. Nothing much is known about them, they’re just bad guys who’re a bit crazy?
So I guess the storyline was not the greatest selling point of this movie, what about the action sequences? Is it worth the extra dollars to see it in 3D? Probably not. Sure, you feel like you’re in the middle of Central (Hong Kong’s busiest business district) during the dramatic ending scenes but then a lot of times I thought it would’ve been the same in 2D anyway. I am surprised though, Firestorm is the first police action 3D movie from Hong Kong. They made an R rated 3D movie (that would be Sex and Zen) some two years prior. I guess flying body parts are more interesting than flying bullets. Honestly, I’m not a big fan of 3D period. (It’s tiring on my eyes and it’s rare that it’s worth the extra money!) If I had a choice I would’ve just went to see the normal version. When I mentioned ‘bigger and better visual experience’ at the start of this post, “Firestorm” does deliver in that aspect. The CGI is surprisingly good – the filmmakers pretty much blown up most of Central and it actually looks believable. The final siege is long but the tension kept me glued to the screen.
At the end of the day, “Firestorm” is a solid popcorn movie. Entertaining, but not particularly memorable. You can tell the filmmakers did spend a lot of time and effort to make this movie visually appealing, but the story, while it had potential, couldn’t lift it to the next level.
Ending note – lots of TVB actors guest starring in Firestorm, how many can you spot?