Friday, April 16, 2010

Fire of Conscience (film review)

You'll get much clearer views of this Tai Hang creature
if you watch Dante Lam's latest... ;b

Before anything else, thanks to those who wrote nice things about my recent Hong Kong International Film Festival (HKIFF) film reviews on this blog and also in e-mails to me. And although I'm still in two minds as to whether to resume reviewing movies in earnest, here's going ahead and sharing my thoughts about a Hong Kong movie that had its world premiere at this year's HKIFF but which I waited until after the fest ended to view in a regular cinema/multiplex:-

Fire of Conscience (Hong Kong, 2010)
- Dante Lam, director
- Starring Leon Lai, Richie Jen (AKA Richie Ren), Wang Baoqiang, Liu Kai Chi, Michelle Ye, Vivian Hsu, etc.

I first heard about this crime action thriller whose Chinese title translates as Fire Dragon late last summer -- when excited friends living in the atmospheric neighborhood of Tai Hang reported seeing film crews shooting a re-enactment of its famous fire dragon street parade over a few nights, during which personalities like Chin Kar Lok (who action directed the Dante Lam movie) and Richie Jen also were spotted in the area.

And although the amazing creature had previously been captured on celluloid in such as Lawrence Lau's Ballistic (2008), the prospect alone of seeing it in its glory in a movie got me looking forward to checking out this film that tells the story of two cops: both of whom were born in the Chinese year of the dragon; one of whom may look, as someone teased him, more like a bad than good guy but actually is a dedicated policeman; the other of whom is far more bad-ass as well as just plain bad than his physical appearance and demeanor gets people assuming.

So it's pretty ironic then that I feel obliged to report that the portions of this film in which the fire dragon metaphorically as well as literally figures are by far the weakest sections of the work for many reasons -- and are what make its conclusion feel too forced and so much less emotionally impacting than the director's The Beast Stalker (which, more than by the way, was my second favorite Hong Kong movie of 2008).

On the brighter side, when a parade involving a 67 meter-long fiery 'dragon' made up of thousands of burning incense sticks and stalks of dry straw and 'pearl' grass is a visual low rather than high point of a film, this can't but mean that this movie which cautions against judging books by their covers offers up plenty of amazing sights. Among those absolute stand-outs are the seriously incredible opening scenes that consist of imaginative tableaux of the kind I don't think I've ever seen before in a film (and most definitely not one out of Hong Kong) and a chase scene that ends up with two man taking an amazing tumble several feet down onto a busy Causeway Bay road.

Upon adding into the equation such as an explosive moment that is at least as gasp-inducing as the one involving a soldier getting way too close to a cannon's mouth in Peter Chan's The Warlords (2007) and a scene that involves a woman giving birth that is more eye-opening than that in Tsui Hark's Time and Tide (2000), one can be forgiven for thinking that Dante Lam primarily conceived this movie as a series of scenes that would visually wow audience members. If he did so, then he very much succeeded.

Somewhere along the line, however, he (and/or scriptwriter Jack Ng) also looked to have the kind of conclusion that introduced a sense of karma like the first Infernal Affairs (2002) as well as tied things up a la The Beast Stalker (and -- this observation coming from my having just viewed Park Shin Woo's White Night (2009) last night -- many a Korean film). This, alas, the filmmakers were less successful in enacting. Consequently, Fire of Conscience concludes in a way that fails to satisfy, not least because it's so much less powerful and effective than the rest of the movie deserved.

My rating for this film: 8 (despite it unsatisfactory ending because so much of what preceded it had been so very good, even amazing)


Samson said...

Thanks for the fantastic review. 'Fire of Conscience' hasn't been shown in Australia yet. I have been looking forward to seeing it because Dante Lam's last 2 films (The Beast Stalker and Sniper) were both pretty solid. I want to see it even more now that I have read your positive review. And YTSL, please stop contemplating about your resumption of movie-reviewing, just do it!

YTSL said...

Hi Samson --

Thanks for commenting on my blog as promised in your e-mail. And teehee re your "just do it" comment. The thing is that I'm not sure how many people actually will read my reviews -- and how useful they will be. But maybe if even a small number of readers are as enthusiastic as you about reading them... ;b

Meng said...

I follow your blog but haven't posted comments here before, but reading these comments has prompted me to reply. I agree with Samson totally. Your annual coverage of the HKIFF and your top 10 list are always so enjoyable and informative. Of course if you're too busy to write reviews, we will certainly understand and respect your decision, even though we will be soooooo disappointed. : (

YTSL said...

Hi Meng --

Another reader of my movie posts comes out of the woodwork! Thank you! Am really chuffed by your comments. (And yes, it really is nice to know that my writings are being read, enjoyed and deemed useful!) :)))

Brian said...

Dear YTSL,
The first line of your 'About Me' says you're a 'Hong Kong film fanatic (and general Asian cinema buff)'. Surely your blog has to reflect that by talking more cinema!!

DS said...

Nice review. Give us more!

YTSL said...

Hi Brian --

Hmmmm... considering that 199 of my blog posts have "movies" among their labels, I'd say that I've written quite a bit about movies!

Funnily enough, it feels like I'm coming full circle as I started this blog years ago because up until then, the only pieces on the internet that I had written were about movies -- and I wanted a space to write about more than just movies!!!

(BTW, are you either the Brian I know as Brooklyn or Bronx Brian? Or are you somebody else altogether? ;b)

Hi DS --

Goodness me... another first poster on this blog on this thread? And thanks for the vote! ;b

sbk said...

hi ytsl,

I'm in agreement with your movie review fans. I enjoy reading them but don't always comment as it seems silly since I haven't seen the movie(s). I do wish there was a way to archive your reviews so I could read them after I watched the movie without having to ask you for the link.

YTSL said...

Hi sbk --

Hmmm... have you tried the blogger search band at the top of my blog? Also, please don't worry about my not seeing a comment on an old post as Blogger e-mails me a notice whenever someone comments on this blog! :)

Tim said...

I'm writing from Sydney, Australia. I regularly follow Samson's film reviews at, our local site on Asian cinema. So when he told me that there's this other cool website, I checked it out, and guess what, it turned out to be your blog! Yeah, I think your site is awesome, with nice pictures and nice reviews, and I hope to check back regularly!

ewaffle said...

I read your reviews for the first time when I discovered Brian's blog and noticed that some of the were written by the enigmatically named (at that time) YTSL.

You write about film the way many of us wished we could. I can't imagine you would be enough of a tease to toss the possibility of regular reviews from you again and not follow up.

Of course there are those "other things" that can get in the way like earning a living, sleeping, eating, photography etc. but I hope you can find enough time for some reviews.

YTSL said...

Hi Tim --

Welcome to my blog -- and I hope that you'll enjoy reading more than just the reviews on it! :)

Hi ewaffle --

Long time no hear, so good to see you commenting again! And especially since you've written such a nice compliment on this thread -- for which I sincerely thank you.

And yes, you've put it well -- there are all these other things I have as well as want to do these days besides write movie reviews. But let's see what I can do on that last front now I have been given proof that there is demand for them! :)