“Ip Man” action star Donnie Yen returns with a great police crime thriller reminiscent of John Woo’s “Hard Boiled” and Michael Mann’s “Heat.” Written and directed by the late Benny Chan whose filmography includes over 20 action films, several featuring Jackie Chan, “Raging Fire” tells the story of an honorable cop (Yen) who goes up against his corrupt former partner (Nicholas Tse), now the leader of a gang made up of former officers gone bad. Thrilling shootouts, car chases, and well-choreographed martial arts mark a nostalgic return to the Hong Kong cinema prevalent in the 90s.
Yen plays Bong, the Serpico of the Regional Crime Unit in Hong Kong. Treated as an outcast by most of his colleagues for testifying against a group of officers who crossed the line, including former protégé Ngo (Tse), Bong works only with his own team, younger officers he can trust.
Ngo holds a grudge against Bong and the force after serving a stint in prison for an interrogation that went too far. When Ngo’s team of criminals pulls a heist at a mall, eight police officers lose their lives which sets Bong and his team in motion to catch the responsible party.
There are a couple of scenes in “Raging Fire” that pays homage to Michael Mann’s “Heat,” the first when Bong and Ngo meet face to face to have a civil conversation — reminiscent of Pacino and DeNiro’s casual chat in the diner — the second, the shoutout in broad daylight on the streets of Hong Kong substituting for Los Angeles. Tse is outfitted in a black suit like DeNiro’s. Chan is a master of action scenes like this one. The foot chase becomes a car chase leading to astonishing stunts including a great scene with Yen driving a car while fighting Tse on a motorcycle.
For the first half of the film, Yen operates in a low-key mode. It’s one of his best performances as the actor gets to show his acting skills saving the Wushu fight scenes for just the right moment including a thrilling mano a mano scene inside a church for the film’s big climax. It’s an effective way to keep the audience enticed in anticipation of Yen’s martial arts exhibition.
The MVP award goes to Nicholas Tse as former cop-turned-baddie Ngo who first worked with Chan on “Gen-X Cops” two decades ago when he was 19. A film is only as good as its villain and Tse does a solid job of playing the antihero. Also, it’s a three-dimensional character with complex feelings. Ngo, like many great villains, started out on a path of righteousness, took a wrong turn, and rather than reflect on his own mistakes and take responsibility, his thoughts became clouded with anger and retribution. The audience may also face mixed feelings knowing Ngo’s past and hope for some sort of remorse. Don’t hold your breath.
“Raging Fire” lets Chan go out on top — the writer-director-producer sadly passed away a year ago from nasopharyngeal cancer — with a final film that features well-developed characters, exciting action, and a welcomed return to 90s Hong Kong cinema.
(3 ½ stars)
Now showing at The Grand Berry Theater