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  • Dante Lam is fast cementing his position in the Hong Kong film industry as one of the go-to directors for an action cop-thriller, with his previous films Sniper and Beast Stalker, in collaboration with writer Ng Wai Lun doing just that, not to the penchant of tackling characters with plenty of emotional baggage straddling in between the grey moral areas, allowing the actors portraying them to be noticed for their dramatic chops.

    The film opens with plenty of money shots for its opening montage, the first being a special effects laden time lapse shot of Leon Lai's Sergeant Manfred slowly growing older and looking more haggard, no thanks to his donning yet another unkempt bearded look. Then there's a Watchmen opening credits inspired series of black and white stills that freeze frames some really insane action moments which tell a little bit about the back-stories that we're soon going to get entrenched in as the narrative moves forward, thus while they don't make much sense now, they will get explained in due course, just to keep your suspense piqued.

    As mentioned, characters with deep emotional baggage are probably going to be a staple in Dante Lam's films, and Sergeant Manfred is on the verge of throwing away his 27 years of veteran service by employing an unorthodox, hair shaving quirk after apprehending any pickpocket on the streets, bringing them to an eyewitness to his wife's murder. This of course leads to complaints about his heavy-handedness, and investigations by internal affairs of a needless, violent cop on the force, but it doesn't faze him as he goes on a determined search of his wife's killer.

    Richie Jen on the other hand, as Inspector Kee, may look the gentleman, but he too has plenty of cards kept under his sleeve, coming from the Narcotics Bureau and wanting to work at the Crimes Unit. He takes to Sergeant Manfred on a typical night on duty where they both share similar, unflattering views of their superiors and top brass and how disconnected they can be when sitting atop the ivory tower detached from the men and happenings on the ground, and both men soon form a working partnership as they collaborate into the investigations of a hooker, where signs initially point to one of Manfred's subordinates (Liu Kai Chi).

    Action wise, there are a number of huge gun battles here that will max out the sound system of the cinema, and Lam crafts plenty of chase sequences, gun play and moments enough that will make the action junkie in you go wild given the unflinching, graphic violence, especially when Lai's Manfred goes for broke. A critical battle scene takes place in a teahouse, and I think as ubiquitous a teahouse can get in Hong Kong, nothing beats having a standoff and a shootout in an HK action flick, this one upping the ante with massive grenade explosions, body count and a narrative moment which will make you go a baffling "hmm..." since it did stick out like a sore thumb, but fret not as all's set to be explained soon enough. The only letdown I had, which no thanks to promotional stills and the trailer is that of having Manfred and his team race down the busy streets on foot and carrying some heavy firepower, something set up to look strikingly similar to Michael Mann's Heat, but what an anti-climax it had turned out to be.

    As with all testosterone charged action films, most of the female characters were completely relegated to nothing more than token support roles in order to provide that fuel for the guys' relentless drive to do what they have set out to, or is the source of their pain and probable bad judgement calls, save for Michelle Ye's May who plays that tough cookie policewoman who has this insatiable crush for Manfred, but gets to do most of his administrative dirty work. Vivian Hsu though goes back to being a flower vase as Kee's girlfriend Ellen, whom we learn more through other people's conversation about her inglorious past, and Vanessa Yeung an even smaller role as Manfred's wife whom we'll see in brief flashbacks.

    Sure the storyline does involve yet another mole from within the force who's gone down the wrong path given and causing even more personal turmoil, but it is exactly how each character deals with their problems in opting for the easy way out, and the action sequences here that makes this an above average thriller. I would like it a lot more if not for that really contrived moment of having someone give birth in the middle of plenty of hullabaloo.
  • Dante Lam succeeds in delivering a character driven action picture, but fall flats on film pacing and storytelling...

    To be honest, it took me a few attempts and weeks, before the film was able to keep my undivided attention to get pass the 20 minute mark. It is rare that I encounter a film that bores more in the beginning. Still, once the film hits the quarter time interval, it begins to discern into a tad more interesting. There is really nothing wrong with the film on a technical level and probably a joy to endure with a decent sound system. However, the film fails by a dragging storying that moves toward routine and boredom than excitement. Still one must be impressed with the numerous smash-buckling action sequences by Chin Kar Lok, especially in the fabulously staged form of the restaurant scene which never fails on the brutality scale. Credit must also be given to Lam for trying to develop almost everyone of its film characters, but at the end of the day, it just seems too much. It is a rare case for Hong Kong action cinema where it is character driven and unfortunately it is also the biggest flaw in the film.

    Leon Lai attempts to don a Aaron Kwok style career intervention, but fails to show enough emotions to cultivate what is a very complicated role. Unfortunately, Lai is no Kwok and his inability to shred off his wooden face effectively disables any heartfelt emotions from the audience. Contrastingly, Richie Ren shines in his role as the corrupt cop. Ren chews his scenes with a menacing confidence and in the end; he is far more human than the wooden figure of Leon. While not exactly award winning, but a nomination or some sort is not out of question. As usual Liu Kai Chi does a fine turn in yet another supporting cop role and the scene where he encounters Leon about his possible involvement of the prostitute death is a brain explosion of a joy to watch. The much loved Vivian Hsu makes a flower glass appearance and Michelle Yip adds some female testosterone to the proceedings.

    All in all, Fire of Conscience is a fine example when a film works well on a technical level, beautiful to look at and even wonderful to watch, but falls to the ground when it comes to uneven pacing and slow storytelling. It is a shame as Dante Lam's Beast Stalker looks like a return to form and while Fire of Conscience isn't a bad film by all means, with the cast and crew on hand, one just expected a little more. A distant film that entertains in parts...(Neo 2010)

    I rate it 6.5/10

  • Warning: Spoilers
    Here's how the ultimate confrontation between the villain (Ren) and the hero (Lai) begins. The setting is a large garage filled with containers of gasoline and boxes of equipment. A half-disassembled car hangs from the ceiling. There has just been a grand shoot out and the floor is littered with bodies. Okay? Now, the villain is splashing gallons of gasoline around the place, preparatory to burning the building down and destroying all the evidence of his complicity. He drops a lighter into the gasoline and the flames leap up all over.

    But -- get this -- a whimper comes from a darkened corner and, lo, it is the very pregnant wife of a man for whose death Ren was responsible. She's gagged and wrapped in a sack and she's in labor. Delivery is imminent. Ren rushes to her and hurriedly begins unwrapping her.

    But the garage door bursts open and Lai enters, hoping to catch the perps. Ren interrupts the unwrapping and he and Lai exchange shots, and then engage in an epic fist fight with no fancy chop-socky movies, just punches and thrown objects. Meanwhile the fire burns and the pregnant woman bubbles -- mmmph, mmph! A hanging car is dislodged during the fight and it falls on the bad guy's leg, shredding it and partly trapping him. This frees Lai to run to the woman, unwrap her completely, remove her gag, and discover that the infant is partly with us and partly still with the mother. Ren manages to pull his mangled leg from beneath the car and hobble off down the street, lugging a case with half a million dollars in it behind him. Soon, Lai is in hot pursuit through a festival parade during a holiday. Another final shoot out takes place.

    Enough? This story of the Hong Kong police force and a gang of thieves is really fast -- so fast that it's not easy to keep up with the subtitles. It's the equal in tempo, action, and ambiguity of the better police/action thrillers from any Western source.

    I had a problem keeping some of the characters straight for the first half hour, partly because the subtitles seemed to zip by and partly because the editing is at warp speed and there are few moments when things slow down enough for us to become accustomed to the unfamiliar actors with the unfamiliar names.

    It's by no means a stupid movie, not insulting to any mind that's been around for more than fifteen years. Ren is the villain alright. He's a tough and savvy police officer but he's in league with the perps. And why? He needs the money because his love for a chorus girl of low status has held his promotions in check. It's a plausible excuse, especially when you see his radiantly beautiful girl friend, who knows nothing of his being particeps criminis. In abjectly stupid action movies, there is no such ambiguity. The heavies are simply innately evil. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with having an innately evil bad guy but it's a challenge because, to make it successful, you have to have a very INTERESTING innately evil bad guy. (Viz., James Mason in "North By Northwest", or anybody in "Richard III.")

    Engaging and informative views of the streets of Hong Kong. Man, they are crowded. They make New York look like the Gobi Desert. And -- here we have Hong Kong, a former British Crown Colony, now a part of the People's Republic of China -- no? And it doesn't look very Chinese. Grant Street in San Francisco looks more Chinese. The dialog uses a few borrowed English expressions; some of the signs are in English; there are advertisements for objects and appliances with whose brand names Americans are thoroughly familiar. And they're not all made in China. Toyota and Rolex are among the ads I noticed. The undercover cops look like bums. Nobody walks around in military suits with stiff upper collars. And the plot of the movie itself exposes corruption in a state-run institution.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    You know going into a Dante Lam film that you're going to get some hard-hitting action, so it is little surprise that you find your heart racing from one gritty street battle to the next. But what turns out to be an unexpected delight in Dante Lam's latest- "Fire of Conscience"- is how he blends his trademark riveting action sequences with equally gripping character-driven drama into quite possibly one of the most exciting action thrillers we will see this year.

    Just as his award-winning "Beast Stalker" and his classic "Beast Cops", the lead characters in this Dante Lam film are morally ambiguous cops whose sense of right and wrong are questionable. Man (Leon Lai) is a brutish detective haunted by the death of his pregnant wife two years ago. Obsessed with apprehending her killer, his personal missions of vengeance chasing after pickpockets, shaving their heads and bringing them to the one eyewitness of the crime haven't exactly endeared him with the rest of the police force. But he believes less in the justice system than his own brand of justice, so he has no qualms brutalizing his suspects and torturing confessions out of them.

    On the other hand, Serious Crimes Unit investigator Kee (Ritchie Jen) appears to be Man's direct opposite- a by-the-book, principled, high-flying police officer whose career has hit an unexpected roadblock for reasons that you'd only find out very late into the film. Their fortuitous meeting occurs in the wake of the murder of a prostitute, the investigation of which sparks off a whole series of events that will see their fates gradually intertwined with each other in the days to come.

    It doesn't take much to guess that Kee isn't the upright cop he appears to be, or that Man and Kee will eventually find themselves on opposite sides of the law and go mano-a-mano against each other. But the film would have you believe that Man and Kee are just two sides of the same coin- both men aggressive and driven, bearing the same distinct characteristics of their common zodiac sign, the "fire dragon" (hence the title of the film). The difference lies in where they allow that passion within to take them, and the choices they make along the way.

    Thanks to Ng Wai Lun's ambitious screenplay (he also wrote Dante Lam's Beast Stalker and Sniper), both Man and Kee are not drawn simplistically along the lines of good cop-bad cop. Instead, we empathise with Man's despair at his wife's death, but frown at his sadistic methods of grilling his suspects. Likewise, we frown at Kee's ways of greed, but empathise with his predicament that led him astray and also the care and concern he shows towards his fellow partner who has a dying father in the hospital.

    Kudos to Leon Lai and Ritchie Jen for portraying with aplomb their respective larger-than-life characters- sporting the necessary facial hair to look more grizzled, Leon Lai gives an edgy emotional performance that is bound to garner some attention come awards season next year. Next to Lai, Ritchie Jen's composed demeanour belying an undercurrent of menace is a perfect foil. The rest of the cast, including Liu Kai-Chi's single father of a cop and Michelle Ye's tough-as-nails policewoman, are just as engaging in their supporting roles and undoubtedly add to the joy of watching this tautly crafted thriller.

    That's probably the most apt compliment to describe Dante Lam's tight plotting from start to end as he maintains a breathlessly feverish pace that will keep you glued to your seats. Each of the film's action sequences- whether in a restaurant, a narrow staircase, or right in the middle of a busy road in Hong Kong's Central district- display once again Dante's ample flair in the action department. He's also upped the ante this time- not just with bigger and louder guns, but also with more devastating ammunition in the form of hand grenades.

    Indeed, there's never been any doubt that "Fire of Conscience" would bear the trademarks of a Dante Lam film, but this is more than just a standard-issue action film for its multifaceted characters which draw you in with their own moral dilemmas. The success of "Beast Stalker" must undeniably have inspired Dante Lam to make films that go beyond the bullets and smoke to explore the people behind the guns, their motivations when they pull the trigger, and ultimately that fire within their hearts- a passion that can both inspire and destroy, as the movie so aptly describes.

  • Warning: Spoilers
    For the record, I just watched another Dante Lam movie "Witness"(Mandarin title,English Title is "Beast Stalker") before seeing For Lung. While seeing Beast Stalker, I have always had this feeling of understatement in tension but overstatement in melodramatic emotional developments. Luckily in For Lung, which totally surprised me with all the kinetic power it demonstrated, director Dante Lam learned to turn the movie upside-down.

    You can't have Hong Kong movies without clichés like locations. Violent events taking place in Mongkok is just like a story you always hear but never really see happening. Luckily, the camera focus of For Lung seems to be quite self-aware that it successfully portrayed several different cops yet allowed the audiences to relate to each of them. Leon Lai(Li Ming)'s Captain Manfred is quite a compelling character to watch. He's truly seasoned, troubled yet had a broken family to deal with. Ritchie Ren(Ren Xianqi)'s inspector Kee is much more refined with some serious charisma, but he's not who he seems to be. Kai Chi Liu plays Captain Manfred's sidekick, who's loyal yet lived a quite unexamined life. The narration is tightened up, which made all these cops more involved and allowed audiences to relate to them much better than in Beast Stalker.

    In terms of performances, almost everyone around is remarkable in their running-scared roles. They definitely gave the taste of their fear/thirsty for violence. That being said, they are all quite convincing. As the story goes on, all the main characters got their side-stories, some bitter-sweet, some bitter-not-sweet. But, I can guarantee you they are all more genuine and involving than Beast Stalker. They are quite insightful glimpses into modern Chinese(HK included) and their mental status quo. However, this also lead to a little disappointment at the epilogue of the story.

    Sometimes, I can read the context that director Lam didn't want the audiences to enjoy those gunfights, because these gunfights are better described as "mayhem" or "disaster" as they have such realistic edges that you will pray not to get involved in one like that.

    Director Lam said that the reason he wanted to name the movie "For Lung"(literally translated as "flaming dragon") is to pay homage to HK the city. Dancing with paper dragons is a Chinese tradition during new years, which according to legends scared off man-eating-monsters and plagues alike. Yet, the symbol of flaming dragon is interpreted in the movie to be simply the "passion" in one's heart, be it passion to love, or passion to revenge, get even, etc. Disappointedly, the movie undervalued the visual/literal aspects of this otherwise more dynamic symbol, and pushed the final chase into a Buddhist temple, where your passions got cleansed according to Buddhism. In the closing shots, Captain Manfred gave a quite unfitting comment to conclude the movie, that "everyone's got a demon in their heart, I gave in to it." In my opinion, this movie could be quite self-contained simply with the justice nailed. If one wants to go deep in reflection, simply telling the audiences that "everyone's got a demon in their hearts" seemed forced and hollow.

    The core conversation of the movie, equally profound and heartbreaking, was between Inspector Kee and his former mentor who's a retired police officer. The rich, happy yet balanced life of his mentor was a sad mirror to Kee's broken, crime-riddled life. In their friendly conversation, the mentor used his own experience to persuade Kee to let go of his marriage which was questioned by the bureaus because the woman Kee's about to marry was once a prostitute. Kee was an emotional man so he refused to approve his mentor's point. The mentor continued with the point that "to man, career is more important than wife and house" which is a pretty traditional oriental point, categorizing wife and house in the same group. The mentor commented, "Once you owned them, you shouldn't think about them that hard anymore". The western audiences and young oriental audiences will quickly get a grasp of the villainous nature of this conversation. Yet in my opinion, it provided the basis for the tragedies in this movie. It's tragic for Kee because despite his hard attitude which insisted marrying the flawed fiancé, he himself doesn't have faith in such a relationship. The way they are about to proceed is even harsher, and worse, they are in debt of about 500,000 dollars. It's tragic to hear this conversation because, like Kee we may not have faiths in the goodness of life after all, and we may not have a logic and value system that's more persuasive than his mentor.

    In a society where dogs' surviving logic brings fortune, while heroes' logic brings chaos and tragedies, the director/writer Dante Lam might be very angry. Yet if the only thing dogs don't cross is the legal line, why do the heroes have to bear so many tragic consequences? The angry "fiery dragon" or the "demon" in Captain Manfred and Kee's hearts kicked off this adrenaline-pounding actioner, which presented you 3-dimensional characters. They are 3-dimensional because they can't see anything beyond, instead they see a lot below in the abyss. The final "redemption" of Captain Manfred was just a return to the "flat" reality we live in.

    There are consequences to every choice we make. Though we may not have undertaken so much as Captain Manfred did, we can learn to protect our heart. That's something every religion talks about. According to left-wing artist Oliver Stone, "The world is flat". I surely hope he doesn't mean "perfect" by "flat" because otherwise we will have to accept all the dirty rules detested in this movie. What I am compelled to tell other people who've seen this movie is, we can be 3-dimensional too, but in another direction. With Jesus way of cross, we can actually defy the gravity of abyss that sucked in Kee. All you need is to believe.
  • dumsumdumfai13 September 2010
    Warning: Spoilers
    Disappointed. really. Especially by the tacked on philosophical ending. Completedly out of character with the first 15 min. (Which I can hardly remember)

    There's a buddy-buddy cop thing going on. Which is kind of hooky - forced and plot oriented. The undertow of hidden agenda is expected, and it's well played.

    There's some great action sequence - the entire restaurant scene - but is that homage to Woo? , the car chase...etc. But the ending... just a bit much for me - from the birth to the dragon dance bit. This mix-and-match doesn't.

    But it's just above average. The average of other HK movies.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    FIRE OF CONSCIENCE is a Dante Lam film and continues his fascination with armed cops and dodgy Chinese philosophy. This time his burnt out hero is a Sergeant, hunting for the pickpocket who murdered his wife, one police brutality charge at a time. He connects with a by-the-book guy from the Narc squad who may not be as clean as he appears, which gives us the inevitable cop on cop finale. The big shift this time is that in addition to some typically loud shoot-outs in crowded locations and cramped spaces, we also get a lot of character work; the good guys have bad aspects and the bad guys have good sides. It's nice that everybody has a reason for what they're doing, but in truth the characterisation doesn't always connect. Still, it's a cool HK action movie with more heart than we're used to.