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szdaily -> Movies -> 
As the Light Goes Out
    2014-01-17  08:53    Shenzhen Daily

    《救火英雄》

    Starring: Nicholas Tse, Shawn Yue, Simon Yam, Hu Jun, Bai Bing, Andy On

    Director: Derek Kwok

    HERE comes another onscreen depiction of Hong Kong confronting an apocalypse of sorts. Following swiftly on the city’s central business district being reduced to rubble in the cops-and-robbers spectacle “Firestorm,” young filmmaker Derek Kwok arrives to switch New Year-time Hong Kong off with an action-thriller that aims to combine explosive pyrotechnics with a taut drama about high-strung, damaged souls.

    A joining of forces between two of Hong Kong’s major film production outfits — with Emperor Motion Pictures represented onscreen by its star Nicholas Tse (“Bodyguards and Assassins”) and Media Asia’s presence felt through Shawn Yue (“Love in a Puff” ) — “As the Light Goes Out” is a dazzling display of cinematic craft.

    While one of the most versatile filmmakers in the field today — his filmography includes understated noir (“The Moss”), pop romance (“Frozen”), laugh-out-loud comedy (“Gallants”) and VFX-laden blockbusters (“Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons,” co-directed with Stephen Chow) — Kwok seems to have fallen victim to his own ambitions. By overburdening “Light” with one too many unnecessary and undercooked tangents, he and his screenwriters, Jill Leung and Philip Yung, have distracted the film from becoming simply a neat and simple story about fear, anxiety and guilt among a group of firefighters confronting what should be the defining battle of their lives.

    Kwok’s knack for subverting conventions is very much evident early in the film. In the film’s post-title scene, a voiceover speaks of how Hong Kong is seemingly braving for a doomsday scenario as temperatures hit a whopping 34 degrees Celsius on Christmas Eve. Barely has the newcaster’s voice drifted off that burning meteors begin raining down on the city to set it ablaze. And then Jackie Chan, dressed up in firefighting gear, appears — not to save the day, but to invite people to sign up for a career in the fire brigade.

    Zooming out of the image, a group of young firemen are seen ridiculing the over-the-top nature of this public service announcement: manning one of Hong Kong’s most far-flung fire stations, the firefighters are seen whiling their time away exchanging easy banter, doing repetitive training drills or making soup.

    The last task is the handiwork of Sam (Tse), an officer spending the last day at his posting and facing yet another twist in his spiralling career — a tailspin which began, as shown in the film’s opening sequence, when he and his hot-headed colleague Chill (Shawn Yue) were sold out by their cadet-school classmate Yip (Andy On) in an internal investigation about a botched rescue attempt. Yip has since stolen his rival’s rising-star thunder and, having risen above him to become stationmaster, slyly maneuvers Sam’s transfer to another even more obscure posting.

    Thus begins what appears to be an uneventful Christmas Eve for the characters, as Sam’s preparations for departure juxtaposed with the introduction of the film’s many different threads. Ever the rule-breaker for better or worse, Chill is seen driving one of the fire trucks to transport his son to a school visit of a power plant; old-timer Tao (Simon Yam) is given some competition by the arrival of the poker-faced (and incredibly strong) former mainland Chinese firefighter Ocean (Hu Jun), with the pair’s meet-cute — their bonding certainly sizzles with homoerotic frisson — taking the form of a stair-climbing race and shaped up by some of the rookies as a showdown between Hong Kong and the mainland.

    Up until this juncture, the film remains very promising. The personality clashes reveal characters weighed down by the errors of their past, as seen in Sam’s messy state of mind when he questions his wisdom when he jettisoned his (and Chill’s) errors by first not doing things by the book, and then the demanding circumstances of the present, when everybody who’s anybody is trying their best (or worst) by staying on-message and in the good grace of the powers that be.

    Ironically, the “Light Goes Out” begins to veer out of control when it expands into a full-blown disaster movie. With the narrative confined to one single night, too much is allowed to happen after that first fire at the liquor production factory. As one thing leads to another and finally a worst case scenario which leads to Hong Kong falling into a complete blackout, but not before the abrupt death of one of the protagonists, the fact that this incident barely registered throughout the second half of the film highlights how the film is overwhelmed by one too many distracting and unnecessary plot points (most of which aim at consolidating the firefighters’ role also as flawed fathers and boyfriends).

    The film also subverts its own early-stage humor about clichéd images of heroism, as cataclysmic situations bring out ever more extraordinary (and unbelievable) deeds. But as the onscreen calamities become ever more awe-inspiring, some of the action scenes have in turn become too quick to be deciphered clearly, rendering some of Eric Lam’s production design obsolete.

    The film is now being screened in Shenzhen. (SD-Agencies)

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