Leon Lai in Fire of ConscienceHong Kong action cinema is certainly past its heyday, but that doesn’t mean it’s dead. Talented young filmmakers are breathing new life into the genre via hard-hitting, fast-paced dramas. Alongside Johnnie To and Wilson Yip, director Dante Lam is carrying the torch with his latest picture, Fire of Conscience. It’s loud, the fight sequences are mesmerizing and the narrative is strong enough to keep your attention between punches.

A prostitute’s murder brings Manfred (Leon Lai), a dedicated but reckless street cop, into an unlikely collaboration with Kee (Richie Ren), an opportunistic inspector from the Narcotics Bureau. Their investigation leads to a backroom arms deal, which turns into a deadly battle with exploding grenades and blasting AK-47s. Amid the subsequent PR backlash of police and civilian casualties, the case becomes further complicated when DNA evidence points to Cheung-On (Liu Kai-Chi), one of Manfred’s trusted officers, as a prime suspect in the murder. Moreover, a corruption investigation threatens to pin Manfred in a trap of disgrace and ruin while Kee attempts to keep his own dealings under the radar.

The opening sequence is very striking. It’s a series of black and white scenes that have been frozen; stopping liquids mid-pour, blood mid-spray, people mid-stride and thieves mid-robbery. The light illumination of a cell phone is the only indication it holds some significance amongst the attractive display. The serene parade of images abruptly breaks into a foot chase, which results in a not so peaceful conclusion. The mystery begins at that very moment. Later, the film’s ending ties up some of the loose ends, filling in a few of the missing pieces to the puzzle.

The violence in the film is very captivating. It’s fast-paced, but filmed so the hits and misses are discernible rather than just blurry body parts. Even so, there are acts that are so quick in real time that you don’t even realize what’s happening until it’s over. Manfred’s and Kee’s methods of apprehending escaping suspects are unconventional, but entertaining. Also irregular are their interrogation tactics, which include water-boarding and smashing the suspect’s head into a tabletop repeatedly. The intensity of these scenes is maximized by their loudness, which helps the film make a forceful statement.

The performances are excellent. Lai’s browbeaten detective is always a subject of some level of sympathy despite his violent methods, while Ren’s subtle but dark antagonist is brilliant. Furthermore, Lam teams with stunt coordinator Chin Kar-Lok to bring a gritty urgency to the action sequences, which were shot in some of Hong Kong’s busiest areas.

Fire of Conscience is a first-rate action, crime drama that undoubtedly maintains your attention with an absorbing plot and stimulating clashes.

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