Review by Sean Boelman
On paper, a film pairing the late director Benny Chan with the great martial artist and action star Donnie Yen should be a guaranteed hit. And while there are some awesome moments sprinkled throughout Raging Fire, a generic plot will put this disappointingly among the flood of forgettable Asian action fare pumped out every year.
The movie follows a hard-line cop whose life and career are put in jeopardy when a former protégé whom he put away in prison comes back after him seeking revenge. At this point, the trope of a policeman protagonist having to face off against a former colleague who knows his way around because of his background is so worn that this script holds no surprises.
Ultimately, the action sequences are where the appeal of this film lies, and everything that isn’t a fight scene drags by. This isn’t a movie that anyone wants to take particularly seriously, so a simpler storyline would have sufficed, even just an excuse for some cool action. But what we get is a needlessly complex quest for revenge.
Chan wasn’t particularly subtle with his script and what it had to say about corruption within the police system, which is something that is rare from Chinese cinema. However, the heavy-handed moral of the story, preaching honor and honesty over self-preservation, isn’t anything new.
The character development in the film is definitely very weak. The backstories we are given for the protagonist, a good cop who found himself in a bad situation, and the antagonist, a cop who didn’t play by the rules but meant well, are about as generic as they come. And their arcs both play out exactly as expected.
Yen is as amazing as always in his action sequences, kicking ass in a way that is absolutely spectacular to watch. That said, the younger actor Nicholas Tse threatens to steal the spotlight, holding his own in the fights while delivering his villainous dialogue in a way that is perfectly exaggerated.
Being that the movie was made by one of the most accomplished action directors in China, it’s no surprise that it looks great. There are some amazing set pieces that are choreographed well and edited in a way that is fast-paced and exciting. In this regard, it’s everything one could want from an Asian popcorn flick like this.
Raging Fire has a lot of things working in its favor, but ultimately, the script works against it so much that its strengths will leave viewers underwhelmed. Had some of the fluff been cut, everything was in place for this to be a great flick.
Raging Fire screened at the 2021 Fantasia Film Festival which runs August 5-25. It is now playing in theaters.