At the center of the story are brother and sister Jia and Jane (Chang Hsiao Chuan and Kuo Tsai Chieh), who are on the hunt for someone who can help with Jane's unexpected cancer diagnosis. That person may or may not be Ko Yu (Zhang Yingchu), who was working on futuristic stem cell research a few years ago when the lab she was working in caught fire and several people died, including her boss, Professor Lee. She was miraculously saved by a security guard, Tingbo (Daniel Wu), who doused the fire that would've burned her alive. All of them come together when the truck full of stem cells that Tingbo is responsible for gets hijacked, and then hijacked again, first by Jia and Jane, and secondly by Professor Lee's son Ziwan (Zhang Ruo Yun). All of them want the same thing: to see the miraculous, futuristic stem cell researched used to help millions of people. The only problem is Ko Yu's husband, Tang (FanKuang Yao), who runs the Sky One pharma skyscraper and is desperate to keep the stem cell research under wraps until he can figure out how to make the most money off of it.
Or, at least, I think that's what happens. Really, Sky on Fire is such a soap-opera cobweb of history and flashbacks and plotting and scheming that it quickly becomes hard to keep up with all of it, not least of the reasons being that none of it is interesting. Some of the performances generate a little sympathy -- Wu makes for a good cop with a conscience, and Chieh has a glow that makes Jia's devotion believable enough -- but that's not enough to get the film through scene after scene of Lam moving his characters around like chess pieces in an endless stalemate. The stem cells are moved to one location, but Jane is moved somewhere else. Disagreements push Jia and Jane apart, with Tingbo and Ziwan playing mediators or middlemen. They're not the only characters, either, with a ton of supporting players and thugs to round out the muddled, headache-inducing web of connections.
Said web is clearly part of Lam's desire to make a sprawling epic, but that notion is misguided given the limitations he appears to have had. Sky on Fire is consistently hampered by ugly CG effects that instantly take the viewer out of the movie, filling the screen with unconvincing clouds of smoke, stunningly fake skyscrapers, and distinctly digital flames. Given the film is called Sky on Fire, it's a pretty big deal that none of these things ever look right on the screen. Lam's action chops are much better, with some impressive car work (highlight: a guy on a bike going through the back of a tiny noodle shop and out the front door on the other side), but even that is often captured with low-quality cameras that create ugly ghosting effects on the screen, not to mention the chases are also accentuated by the awful computer graphics.
Those who manage to make it through all of the movie's punishing 100 minutes will also be rewarded with a trifecta of everything the film does wrong. Despite reaching what feels like an end to the movie's central story, the film stretches out for another 20 minutes to resolve a single plot point, arguably the pinnacle of the movie's painful melodrama. The resulting scene is not just a low point for the film's limited visual effects budget, but is also makes Tingbo into a severe hypocrite, tainting his desire to do good with a coup de grace move that would seem to negatively impact millions and millions of people, while accomplishing nothing in terms of the things that most of the film's characters spend the whole movie fighting to accomplish. It's the final insult on top of an already sky-high pile of missteps.
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