I'm no expert on Chinese action movies, so maybe this is more common than I think it is, but Firestorm feels like a throwback to the operatic melodrama of John Woo. The action, while not nearly as good as Woo in his prime, is ridiculous and plentiful, the blood runs in rivers, and the entire movie is dripping with the existential anguish of Inspector Lui as his personal code of ethics is tested by a gang without any. Although the film drags on a bit too long, and whatever it's trying to say about morality is kind of half-assed, the film is consistently entertaining. It's not a certainty that director Alan Yuen intends for the viewer to enjoy the movie for its overbaked conflict, but it's also definitely not an ironic enjoyment -- the movie's absolute earnestness in the face of cars and bodies flying around the screen is a flavor Woo specialized in. There's even an action scene interrupted by a truck full of pigeons, possibly a nod to Woo's beloved doves.
The first half of the recipe is Lau as Liu, the only man on the force who doesn't drink on the job just to stick it or have a broken home to return to each night. Lau's angular face and trim figure suggest a man of precision; even when he acts casual in front of Bong (not just a suspect but one of his childhood classmates), there's a sense that he's just imitating friendliness he's seen elsewhere. Bong, on the other hand, is a nice foil: a casual, easygoing guy whose relaxed demeanor seems to earn him quite a bit of leeway with his long-suffering girlfriend, Yan (Chen Yao). She waited for him four years while he was in prison, and she's even set him up with a job at a restaurant to get back on his feet.
Part of the reason the movie's thematic underpinnings feel underdeveloped is that the focus leans heavily in favor of Liu over Bong. It becomes clear early on that Liu's suspicions are correct, and that Bong's gang is likely led by Cao Nam (Jun Hu), a wealthy prick who avoided jail at least three times, and even sued the police department for harassing him. When confronted, Bong has his reasons for returning to a life of crime, but his motivation never quite resonates. Lau is far more invested, hairline cracks forming in his solemn shell until he finally shatters. In the second half of the movie, every moment with Lau is magnetic, his eyes alight with wild energy. It's a performance that borders on parody, but Lau has a steady hand. To even mention many of the characters who influence his spiral would be to give away some of the movie's most delightful exploitation-style moments, so I will remain tight-lipped.
Although the actual choreography of many of the film's action moments is forgettable (a hand-to-hand fight between Lau and Lam being the worst offender), they're executed with so much brutal, dynamic energy that it's hard to really be upset. A gunfight in a stairwell involving a rocket launcher sends Lau soaring through the air six or seven times, later spilling out onto the roof where some terrible CG can't ruin some of the gravity-defying stunts that follow. Really, the entire movie has Lau taking a hell of a beating, flipped and spun by shockwaves, flung into cars and buildings, and behind the wheel in several crashes. The movie builds to an all-out orgy of violence in the middle of a crowded square, with too many casualties to count. Here, the CG is even worse, to the point that it must be criticized, but it's a minor issue. Yuen tops his confection off with a note of perfect irony, leavened by twisted sincerity -- another one of the film's many entertaining contradictions.
The Video and Audio
Trailers for Iceman, Rigor Mortis, and Special ID play before the main menu, and are selectable from there as well. An original theatrical trailer for Firestorm is also included.