Duel of the fates
This duel at the top invites itself in settings such as a disused shopping center, an ordinary busy street and a dangerous district in the slums of Hong Kong. The environments that host the fights of raging fire are rather generic on paper, however, their scale is increased tenfold by backgrounds sculpted by exchanges of gunfire or characters who fight badly.
The action is painstakingly distributed across the different levels of depth of field, much like Benny Chan’s overhead camera organically links multiple frame scales in a single movement. The mad filmmaker behind Big Bullet and Who am I? inhabits its space with precision and constantly injects it with a stimulating and spectacular richness.
A work of spatialization that is combined with a breakdown that gives substance to the action, with blows of time dilation and meticulous framing. The readability and spectacular character of the movement are then increased tenfold, while maintaining (almost) always a palpable relationship to castagne. A refusal of cartoonesque which testifies to the capacity of Benny Chan to really listen to the choreographies and to sublimate them without caricaturing them.
Choreographies between brutality and fluidity which draw themselves from the velocity of Donnie Yen and Nicholas Tse. The two actors chain stunts and confrontations, not hesitating to let themselves be mistreated by blows and interactions with the decor. A physical investment that continues to give organic matter to the action of raging fireand reinforce its impact a little more.
A generosity of staging and acting which however comes up against the very classic structure of a broken friendship that turns into a bloody antagonism. A dramatic issue that has already been seen and a little mechanical that leaves too little room for a renewed plot that would reinforce the viewer’s emotional investment.
A story architecture marked out and inhabited by the usual heroic policeman future dad, his rebellious apprentice in search of revenge, but also his companion who will have to be rescued and the good cop friend quickly sacrificed during the story. A gallery of archetypes, certainly not unbearable, but which continues to arrange a narration without great surprise that stifles the identification of the spectator.
Add to that the integrity of the character of Donnie Yen who finds himself confronted with his crooked hierarchy who tries by all means to prevent him from doing his job. Bureaucracy parasitized by the underworld and protocol which reduces the room for maneuver of the investigators, the theme of police corruption, the only real political hook of the feature film, is, however, only approached by deja vu and systematic patterns.
Far from the buffoonery of a Hard Day or the darkness of a bad lieutenant, raging fire doesn’t add much to this threadbare theme, giving the impression of a somewhat gimmicky portrait of Hong Kong police issues. Worse, these misadventures in uniform lead to a scene in the last third of the film where Donnie Yen’s colleagues manifest themselves to their hierarchy so that the hero goes back to the field to face his famous rival.
The spectator is then entitled to the famous scene where a group publicly supports the main character to give value to his actions. The screenplay by Benny Chan, Ryan Wai-Chun Ling and Yaoliang Tang then chooses the mechanical fraternal sequence, to the detriment of the harsh and realistic portrait of the Hong Kong police force.
But if these stereotypes considerably weigh down his narrative, raging fire nevertheless demonstrates an indisputable craftsmanship. Testifies to this the legendary warmth and benevolence of Donnie Yen whose presence permeates every shot of the film. Not the shadow of a surprising misuse for the main interpreter of the saga Ip-Mannevertheless, his presence and his charisma almost automatically exalt the empathy of the spectator.
In the same way, if the type of antagonism which opposes the man to his rival Nicholas Tse has already been filmed a billion times, the expectation created around their meeting for a good half of the film makes their confrontation bloody afterwards. particularly gratifying. A duel seen and reviewed that ends up fascinating thanks to a well-supported iconization which gives breadth to the whole.
Add to that a few sequences that do not skimp on the sentimental, such as the touching death of a protagonist in the first part of the film or a fateful trial scene. The mechanical story of raging fire becomes surprisingly stimulating with its sense of dramatization and emphasis. It’s a pity that this extremism extends to sequences of ass-ass memories with slow-motion shots of big smiles and very (very) friendly hugs. A bromance that becomes a little artificial, supported to the point of bordering on the ridiculous.
Raging Fire is available on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD since May 26, 2022