The Bravest 烈火英雄 (2019) Review

Hong Kong cinema already has its own set of firefighting movies including Johnnie To’s Lifeline <十萬火急> (1997), Pang Brothers’ Out Of Inferno <逃出生天> (2013) and Derek Kwok’s As The Light Goes Out <救火英雄> (2014). Now, China finally has its own long-overdue firefighting movie in the form of The Bravest <烈火英雄> directed by Tony Chan Kwok-Fai.

If the name doesn’t sound familiar to you, perhaps you might have seen some of his romantic comedies such as Hot Summer Days <全城熱戀> (2010), Love In Space <全球熱戀> (2011) and the Chinese remake of Bride Wars <新娘大作戰> (2015). In fact, you could say his whole filmography mainly consists of romantic-comedy movies and The Bravest <烈火英雄> actually marks Chan’s first foray into a big-budget studio picture. The kind that involved lots of action, pyrotechnics and special effects.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you won’t find his signature romantic-comedy tropes at all in his latest movie. The only difference is that it was kept to a bare minimum, which can be seen in a brief scene where two newly-engaged couples (Yang Zi’s Wang Lu and Ou Hao’s Xu Xiaobin) forced to cut short of their wedding photo session following an emergency call from the fire department.

Most of the movie is pretty much a straightforward firefighting drama, where a group of firefighters led by Jiang Liwei (Huang Xiaoming) and Ma Weiguo (Du Jiang) from the fictional city of Bingang has to find ways to stop the massive fire in the oil terminal from spreading any further.

While Chan and Yu Yonggan’s screenplay tends to overstay its welcome with every firefighting-movie cliché (e.g. the inspirational speeches, the emotional salutes) and occasional if sometimes over-the-top melodramatic moments, the movie at least doesn’t fail to disappoint during the firefighting action setpieces.

And for that alone is worth the price of admission, with Chan proves himself to be a surprisingly good visual stylist. Whether it was the opening fire rescue or the numerous explosion and flames that engulfed the Bingang oil terminal, he certainly deserves praise for framing all the action. It’s the kind of movie that demands to be seen on the biggest screen possible. It also helps that he insists on using as many practical stunts and effects as possible with minimum reliance on CGI.

Acting-wise, both Huang Xiaoming and Du Jiang did the best they can in their otherwise underwritten dramatic roles, while Tan Zhuo is largely relegated to an obligatory worried-wife role. Now, if only both story and characters are as good as the impressively-staged action set-pieces and other technical aspects of this movie. Still, for all the shortcomings, it remains a decent start for China’s first big-budget firefighting drama.



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