Sky on Fire, in title, draws on the legacy of Hong Kong action film heavyweight Ringo Lam’s box office success of the 1980s such as City on Fire and Prison on Fire. Joseph Chang and Amber Kuo portray siblings who become embroiled in a battle between pharmaceutical companies whilst they desperately seek a cure for her terminal cancer. Joining them are company chief security officer (Daniel Wu), and pharmaceutical heir (Zhang Ruoyun) as loyalties and morality become muddled in a fight for x-stem cells, justice, and a young girl’s life.
While Ringo Lam remains a long way from his greatest commercial successes that helped shaped the genre of Hong Kong Actions films, a lot of his trademarks and favourite themes make an appearance in Sky on Fire. Characters are placed in precarious situations, forced into double loyalties, but best of all placed into highly suspenseful situations frequently involving car chases and a rain of gunfire. Lam’s never lost his flare for splashy chase scenes intercut with sequences of close combat, and issuing guns that seem to have endless bullets for entire sequences, only to conveniently run out when the hero’s life hangs in the balance.
Sky on Fire‘s greatest downfall is its overcomplicated plot and muddled presentation. Lam introduces a futuristic element not present in his iconic films that’s utterly distracting and does nothing to further the story, worse is that establishing shots are a confusing mix of futuristic buildings and very recognizable Chinese street scenes, making the unfamiliar all the more out of place. Relationships between characters are hastily presented with short flashbacks that leave the audience puzzling over the past as they’re jerked back to present events. Despite his reputation as an action director, Lam has always aimed for ambitiously dense plots, but this one is a combination of too much plot and too little explanation. It takes quite a few leaps of faith to get through the film.
Fans of Ringo Lam and devout followers of Hong Kong Action films of the ’80s and ’90s will surely enjoy some of the nostalgic elements of Sky on Fire. With characters plagued by their struggle between morals and corruption, ill-placed cliché moments of emotion, to over the top villains, it’s a real throwback to the films that put Hong Kong on the map. However, a bit of a shame that it’s a copycat film made by a master who’s meant to be forging ahead instead of retracing his footsteps.
Is Sky on FireSky on Fire opening weekend worthy?
Sky on Fire isn’t without redeeming qualities, despite the convoluted plot, it still sets up the film for a number of finely executed action scenes. It’s not too hard to find some enjoyment, especially if you’re a fan of Hong Kong action and Ringo Lam.
Sky on Fire opens Friday, December 2, 2016 at Cineplex Yonge Dundas. Check their website for more information.