Dir: Dante Lam. HK. 2010. 115 mins
Dante Lam’s visceral and exciting cop film Fire of Conscience is a tour-de-force movie experience in terms of top-notch action and thrills. Blending the best of John Woo and Michael Mann, Lam has crafted a cop movie that deserves to be seen outside Hong Kong, plus is ripe for a Hollywood remake.
The film looks terrific, sounds great and is made with real verve and skill.
Fire of Conscience grips right from the opening credits sequence, a stunning montage of freeze-framed black-and-white images, which offer clues to the complex crime story to follow. What follows is a frenetic and at times extremely violent crime tale that occasionally veers towards the daft but always manages to be gripping and provocative.
Previous Dante Lam films such as The Beast Stalker (2008) and Sniper (2009) have traveled well and found at thome in the DVD market, and while this latest film might lack their sense of wit it has enough pulse-pounding thrills to hold an audience. Plus there are a couple of standout action scenes that confirm Lam’s reputation as a director to watch.
Grizzled cop Man (Lai, sporting a nifty beard) works the pickpocket beat following the death of his wife, but while investigating the death of a prostitute finds himself drawn into a deadly crime conspiracy, teaming up with former narcotics detective Kee (Jen).
After some of his team are killed in a shootout at a restaurant (an amazingly staged scene very reminiscent of the best action moments from Michael Mann) Man is increasingly determined to get to the bottom of the plot, which involves gunrunning, drugs and explosives.
He gradually comes to suspect that Kee may not be the honest cop he appears, and the pair find themselves heading towards a showdown that sets to outdo the previous scenes of violent mayhem. If you thought Chow Yun-Fat carrying children while blazing away in a hospital in Hard Boiled was hardcore, then wait for Fire of Conscience’s ‘cop-delivering-baby-in-burning-building-during-shoot-out’ sequence. A scene that could really only happen in a Hong Kong action movie.
As usual with this genre the Hong Cops cops tend to be troubled and tormented types, never one step away from a violent outburst or a mole in the ranks. And Fire of Conscience is no exception – but where it does stand out is in its sheer sense of pace and verve. The action scenes are wonderfully staged, while Leon Lai (steely determination) and Richie Jen (smooth and duplicitous) make for a fascinating pair of complex cops.
Sure the story is more than a little preposterous, but the film looks terrific, sounds great and is made with real verve and skill. It is a film buyers should take a good look at – if only for the opening montage and the restaurant shoot-out.
Production companies: China Film Media Asia, Media Asia Films
International sales: Media Asia Films
Producers: Dante Lam, Candy Leung
Executive producer: John Chung
Screenplay: Dante Lam, Jack Ng
Cinematographer: Charlie Lam, Chung-to Tse
Production designer: Alfred Yau
Action directors: Chin Ka Lok, Wong Wai Fai
Editor: Chan Kei Hop
Music: Henry Lai
Main cast: Leon Lai, Richie Jen, Vivian Hsu, Michelle Ye, Charles Ying