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Film review: Smoke-filled doom in As the Light Goes Out

Yvonne Teh

 

AS THE LIGHT GOES OUT
Starring: Nicholas Tse Ting-fung, Shawn Yue Man-lok, Hu Jun, Simon Yam Tat-wah, Andy On Chi-kit
Director: Derek Kwok Tsz-kin
Category: IIA (Cantonese, English and Putonghua)
2.5 stars

 

As you might expect from a film about firefighters, there are fiery explosions galore in As the Light Goes Out. Still, this blockbuster's visual element may leave less of an impact on viewers than its sound. The film's protagonists operate in a world of ominous creaks, groans and hisses that evoke chills more readily associated with eerie, supernatural movies.

Derek Kwok Tsz-kin's action drama also is unusual in singling out thick smoke - rather than raging flames - as the greatest danger facing firefighters. Early in the film, we are told that smoke inhalation can kill in just three minutes, and a number of scenes effectively illustrate the dark, disorienting effect of being in a room filled with thick smoke, unable to see, breathe or think clearly.

At a disciplinary hearing taking place one year before the rest of the story, firefighter comrades Sam (Nicholas Tse Ting-fung), Chill (Shawn Yue Man-lok) and Yip (Andy On Chi-kit) are called to account for a decision made in a smoke-filled space that caused lives to be endangered and people, including two of them, to get hurt. Pushed to disclose the person responsible, Chill offers himself up as the fall guy. So it's no surprise to see on Christmas Eve a year later that he's now the lowest-ranking member of the trio, while Yip is the station chief.

While Yip's priority that evening is to make a good impression at a function attended by the top brass, Sam, Chill and the other firefighters based at Lung Kwu Tan station - who include mainland recruit Ocean (an impressive Hu Jun) and veteran Major Lee (Simon Yam Tat-wah) - respond to an emergency call at a liquor warehouse. Although the fire there is extinguished, there is concern that heat from the blaze may have damaged a nearby gas line to a power station that, if shut down, would result in much of Hong Kong losing electricity.

With a title like As the Light Goes Out, it should come as no surprise that a power station would be threatened sooner or later. What does raise eyebrows, however, is the occurrence of not one, but two natural phenomena not expected in winter which happen on the same day as our power scare. These plot contrivances serve to undermine the gritty realism that the filmmakers appeared to have been aiming for.

If you are willing to ignore these details, however, and focus more on the bonds of brotherhood that make one man willing to lie - or even die - for another, the film works better. Director Kwok has shown how ties can be fostered between generations, and locals and mainlanders before in films like Gallants, and he's done it again with this one.

yvonne.teh@scmp.com

 

As the Light Goes Out opens on January 2

 

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