Back in the ’80s, ’90s, and ’00s, action movies about police were basically the new westerns. Hong Kong especially had a huge wave of cop action movies such as Police Story, Hard Boiled, Infernal Affairs, and so many more. Raging Fire from director Benny Chan (Rest in Power) tries to bring back that familiar cop actioner.
Raging Fire is led by Donnie Yen and contains a favorable mixture of a lot of these great films.
But does the movie manage to earn a spot among the best cop movies from Hong Kong?
Here is our review of Raging Fire from Fantasia Film Fest 2021.
Raging Fire review
The film centers on Bong (Donnie Yen), a reputable police officer on the brink of taking down a high-profile criminal. As we are introduced to Bong, we discover he cannot be persuaded to go against his own moral code.
It’s conveyed that Bong has been waiting to take down a big fish for a long time, and his own Boy Scout nature gets him removed from the sting operation he worked so hard to put together.
In doing so, his colleagues go on the raid without him but are ambushed by a third party of violent criminals who are not what they seem.
This unforeseen mess of madmen is led by Ngo (Nicholas Tse), an ex-cop recently released from prison out for blood against those who betrayed him. Ngo and his team of officers were placed in prison and have a troubled history with Bong.
Not to mention, Ngo considered Bong a mentor before their tragic falling out. This results in an unlikely violent battle between ex-coworkers after many of Bong’s peers are murdered.
The core interweaving narrative is quite good for a throwback police actioner. Raging Fire jumps back and forth to the past and present, showing where and how things went wrong for both Bong and Ngo – and Donnie Yen does a solid job showing his acting chops as a cop conflicted between protecting his friends and doing the right thing.
For this reviewer, the only problematic aspect of Raging Fire is its confusing message on police brutality. Ngo and his team were put away for taking their job too far in order to save a life. In doing so, the movie at times is asking whether or not extreme police violence has moments of necessity.
One can see what they were trying to do but the concept right now of excessive force from cops just hits awkwardly in today’s climate.
Just to note, this may not have been Benny Chan’s intention. The first viewing was just not clear where it was trying to land on the subject.
That said, the action in this movie is outstanding. The first 45 minutes has a lot of setup with a few clever action beats here and there. Once the second hour kicks in, it becomes pure popcorn entertainment.
The best action scenes make the viewers ask, “How are they going to get out of this situation?” and then pay it off with the character(s) doing the intelligent and unexpected thing. One scene has Yen in combat with a massive group of men with machetes and everything from the choreography, the way it is executed, and the writing is incredibly clever.
Director Benny Chan brought some Michael Mann influence into Raging Fire as well. There is a city-street gunfight that is clearly invoking the famous street battle from Heat. It’s not on par with Mann’s vision but it is still fun to watch Chan aim for such heights.
And Chan throws in a lot of influences throughout Raging Fire. The central plot has flairs of Infernal Affairs, some action scenes have John Woo vibes (just no flying doves), and one can even see some shades of The Raid (as mentioned before, the machete fight).
With the addition of Donnie Yen, it’s undeniably entertaining.
Sadly, this is director Benny Chan’s last film as he died shortly after the film was finished. His last outing may not be a perfect movie but it demonstrated what a gifted filmmaker he was before his passing.
In a cinema world where action directors use too many shaky camera shots and do not know how to pull back so we can see the action, Chan had the visual framing down.
He will definitely be missed.
Should you watch Raging Fire?
Raging Fire might have a confusing conversation on excessive police force but the film itself is elevated by confidence in orchestrating entertaining action pieces. This movie is a straight-up buffet of an action meal with hand-to-hand warfare, shootouts, and car chases to pick from.
With the addition of Donnie Yen in the driver’s seat and Benny Chan’s confident visual eye with action, Raging Fire is a fitting and explosive goodbye for the Hong Kong director.
Readers who want to read more of our coverage from Fantasia Film Fest 2021, be sure and read our capsule reviews of Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched and Hellbender, as well as our capsule reviews Bull and We’re All Going to the World’s Fair.
Raging Fire opened in theaters on August 13.