Action movies were different in the 90s. They were more bombastic, more melodramatic, and the plots were often paper-thin –even when they seemed complicated. Of course, we’ve come a long way since then, but let’s get one thing clear: 90s action movies kick butt.
Raging Fire, the latest Donnie Yen film out of Hong Kong, is a throwback to this type of filmmaking, and I mean that in the best way possible. This movie kicks butt.
The setup is simple. Donnie Yen plans Bong, a respected police detective who lives his life by a black and white moral system. Nicholas Tse plays Ngo, his former protege, freshly out of prison for a crime he did commit but in a context designed to make him somewhat sympathetic. Ngo blames Bong and a few others for his time in prison; whether or not he did the thing that landed him there, he believed his friends had his back, and they didn’t. Naturally, a game of cat and mouse ensues as Ngo interferes with Bong’s investigations and uses his in-depth knowledge of how the police function to get away with his crimes.
And that’s pretty much it. There are many influences on this film, not the least of which is Michael Mann’s Heat, with the two main characters playing opposite sides of the same coin and engaging in a third act run-and-gun shootout through the busy streets of the city.
Yen and Tse do all the heavy lifting acting-wise; playing the only two characters with any real depth will do that. They’re both good actors, and while the material here is a little slight, they manage to make their characters less one-note than they would be in the hands of lesser performers.
Where the film really shines is with the action, though, and the action is basically pure, distilled, 90s-style over the top, and I loved every second of it. Nicholas Tse has a real screen presence and stands out in every fight scene, and Donnie Yen is still believably kicking entire rooms full of ass even now at age 58.
There are several set pieces throughout the film, including a foot chase through a slum, a highly choreographed fight during a double-cross where team members are tossing guns to one another and using chopsticks to kill opponents all in fluid single takes, and the final showdown between Yen and Tse which takes place after that Heat-style shootout and inside a church bathed in light streaming in through stained glass windows, because of course.
All of this sounds over the top, and it is. Director Benny Chan –directing his last film before he passed away last year– knows exactly where to dial things up to eleven and does so every time. It’s glorious.
Does Raging Fire do anything unique? No, not really, but everything it does, it does incredibly well. If you like Donnie Yen, or 90s style action, or a good time at the movies, then this movie is definitely for you.
Raging Fire premiered Friday, August 13th, as part of the Fantasia Film Festival and is in theatres now.
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