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Sky On Fire (2016) (Blu-ray) (Hong Kong Version)
Daniel Wu (Actor) | Joseph Chang (Actor) | Amber Kuo (Actor) | Zhang Jing Chu (Actor)
Sky On Fire (2016) (Blu-ray) (Hong Kong Version)
This professional review refers to Sky On Fire (2016) (Blu-ray) (Hong Kong Version)

Responsible for classics such as Prison on Fire, School on Fire and City on Fire in the 1980s and the likes of Full Alert and The Victim in the 1990s, Ringo Lam has long been hailed as one of the greats of Hong Kong action cinema, known for his explosive yet gritty and character-driven style. Having shot his first feature in 12 years in 2015 with the reasonably well-received Wild City, Lam returns with the fifth instalment in his thematic Fire series, Sky on Fire, another high-octane thriller revolving around a cure for cancer and corruption in the pharmaceutical industry.

Daniel Wu (Into the Badlands) stars as Chong Tin Po, who after he loses his wife to cancer takes a job working for security at Sky Number One, a world-class medical facility researching a cure for the disease, led by top doctor Ko Yuk (Zhang Jingchu, one of Wu's Overheard co-stars). Following in the footsteps of her mentor Professor Poon, who just happens to have died in an apparent accident five years back, Ko Yuk has a very different approach to her husband President Tang (Fan Guangyao, 10,000 Miles), who's clearly only in it for the money and power. Meanwhile, a young man called Chia Chia (Joseph Chang, Wild City) arrives at the facility, desperately hoping to find help for his cancer-stricken sister Jen (Amber Kuo, Keeper of Darkness), only to get caught up in a robbery carried out by Poon’s son (Zhang Ruoyun, Sparrow), who is dead-set on stealing Ko Yuk's Super Stem Cell research.

Sky on Fire certainly has all the action fans would expect from Ringo Lam, the film working in plenty of car chases, rooftop pursuits, shoot-outs and fist fights, building towards a Towering Inferno style climax. The choreography is solid, and the film is violent enough in places to give it somewhat of a hard edge, with lots of unfortunate extras getting caught up in the carnage. Lam has always been great at set pieces, and the film certainly has its fair share, and while these do at times feel a bit randomly strung together they do help to keep things exciting. The action is let down in places by some shoddy special effects work, in particular during the last act, and this does detract from Lam’s usual street grittiness, though the film is clearly on a larger and scale than some of his other works, and so these lapses are forgivable in the name of him taking a stab at something more ambitious.

What's less forgivable are some serious issues with the script, which is weak, unfocused, and never really goes anywhere, feeling overstretched and floundering whenever Lam moves away from the action. While there’s an interesting premise in the cure for cancer and in the clash between science and morality, neither idea is explored in any depth, and are at best used for broad-stroke social commentary or to keep the plot moving. It's all quite messy and frequently doesn't make sense, and by the hour mark it's hard to see how the characters or the story has actually progressed, a factor which undermines the suspense and sense of danger Lam sets up through more visceral means.

Another offshoot of this is that Sky on Fire doesn't quite manage to nail the kind of moral complexity that Lam is so well known for, and though the setup promises to pit a group of desperate and sympathetic characters against each other, the potential tension never truly materialises. None of the roles are terribly well-written, and despite there being lots of flashbacks and supposedly motivational subplots, it all feels superficial and lacking in emotional punch. Fortunately, the cast go some way to helping distract from this, Daniel Wu again proving himself an A-list lead with real charisma and screen presence, making Chong more anchored than he might otherwise have been. Zhang Jingchu is also on decent form as the torn Ko Yuk, and though underused, both Joseph Chang and Amber Kuo provide some reasonably easy to swallow melodrama.

For the action genre, such flaws are perhaps not too serious, and anything by Ringo Lam is worth watching and several notches above the efforts of other directors. Though Sky on Fire isn't one of his very best works, mainly thanks to its lacklustre script, it remains an enjoyable slice of old school action fun, and one which fans of Lam should certainly enjoy.

by James Mudge - EasternKicks.com






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