'Sky on Fire': Film Review

Sky on Fire - Still - H - 2016
Tang Chak Shunn
Not up to the director's best.

Daniel Wu stars in the latest actioner from Hong Kong director Ringo Lam.

Despite its reminiscent title, Ringo Lam’s latest effort is a far cry from City on Fire, his celebrated and highly influential 1987 crime drama. Sky on Fire never achieves the thrills of its predecessor nor, for that matter, such other Lam films as Full Alert. Nonetheless, action movie fans will undoubtedly want to check out this latest effort from the formerly prolific Hong Kong director.

The convoluted plot revolves around the security chief (Daniel Wu of AMC’s Into the Badlands) of a giant pharmaceutical company based in a skyscraper looming over the city. After the company’s latest shipment of a new anti-cancer drug is stolen by criminals pretending to be cops, he embarks on an investigation that ultimately involves the son (Zhang Ruoyun) of the late scientist who invented the drug whose secret ingredient is “ex stem cells”; a lab worker (Zhang Jinchu); a truck driver (Joseph Chang) desperate to help his cancer-ridden sister (Amber Kuo); and the company’s ruthless CEO (Fan Guangyao) who will stop at nothing to get the drug to market. The digressive storyline also allows plenty of screen time for emotional conversations and revelation-laden flashbacks.

But, of course, it’s the action sequences that are the main draw, and Sky on Fire provides plenty of them, including car and foot chases, fistfights, shootouts and fiery explosions. At times, the proceedings more resemble a disaster movie than an action thriller, with the skyscraper’s eventual fate evoking The Towering Inferno, albeit with subpar CGI special effects. And despite the competent performances, especially by Wu as the hero, this is a film whose stars are not the actors but rather the intrepid stunt performers who risk life and limb to achieve their director’s aims.

Despite the plethora of mayhem on display, the film never achieves the operatic kineticism for which Lam is justly renowned, and his overly complicated screenplay proves nearly impossible to follow. There are some thrilling sequences, to be sure, but the whole is definitely less than the sum of its parts.

Distributor: Well Go USA Entertainment
Production company: Skyland Film—Television Culture Development
Cast: Daniel Wu, Joseph Chang, Zhang Jingchu, Amber Kuo, Zhang Ruoyun, Fan Guangyao
Director-screenwriter: Ringo Lam
Producers: Kenny Chau, Jacqueline Liu
Executive producers: Li Li, Chen Runshen, Peter Zheng, Kenny Chau, Sunny Chen
Director of photography: Choi Man Lung
Production designer: Li Tsz Fung
Editor: David M. Richardon
Composer: Dave Klotz

Not rated, 99 minutes