Film review: Sky on Fire – Ringo Lam misfires with unconvincing thriller
A failed attempt at presenting moral dilemmas, as baffling characters hunt down a break-through cancer drug, highlights dire need for a script doctor
There’s an alarming discrepancy between the Ringo Lam Ling-tung movies we love and the mediocre efforts that he’s been producing since the Hong Kong film legend returned to directing. While last year’s Wild City peddled a hackneyed story about the consequences of greed and corruption, it was at least a solid crime drama blessed with thrilling action scenes. The same couldn’t be said of Sky on Fire, his ambitious yet undeniably failed attempt to address the moral dilemmas amid life-and-death situations.
Directed and scripted by Lam from his original story, this overly sombre movie is set around the invention of a revolutionary cure for cancer. (Although the film’s Chinese title and promotional poster both appear to tease a Towering Inferno scenario, it couldn’t be further from the truth.) While the drug provides a MacGuffin for everyone to chase around, it also necessitates the use of a futuristic setting that feels jarringly at odds with the touch of gritty realism prevalent in Lam’s action thrillers.
Things are complicated in the top medical institute researching said drug: since a laboratory fire killed its lead scientist five years ago, control of the research has been seized by his wicked protégé, Dr. Tang (Fan Guang-yao). Once a drug sample is hijacked by the dead scientist’s son (Zhang Ruoyun), however, a security chief (Daniel Wu Yin-cho), Tang’s estranged wife (Zhang Jingchu), and even a random cancer patient (Amber Kuo Tsai-chieh) and her brother (Joseph Chang Hsiao-chuan) all join the chase.
By filling the ensemble with characters who are either in grief or suffering from cancer (or both), Lam is apparently trying to craft a tragedy of epic proportions. It’s a pity that his characters are rendered with such broad, and often thoroughly baffling, strokes. When a heroic character makes it his mission to save every life, and then lets the explosive climax happen the way it does here, you realise that Lam needs to find a script doctor more than any elixir. On a few occasions, Sky on Fire simply makes no sense.
Sky on Fire opens on November 24
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