Hong Kong’s answer to Backdraft is a good, solid
flick that seems to contain most of Johnnie To’s favorite
actors and themes. Thankfully, he neglects to add montages.
Lau Ching-Wan is the risk-taking boss fireman of the
“ill-fated jinxes,” a notoriously unlucky squad of lifesavers.
They’re known for futility and things just going wrong,
i.e. failing to save lives or saving the wrong ones
(like pets, for example). However, through teamwork
and perseverance, they gain each other's trust and the
respect of others.
There’s no real plot here,
just a lot of incidents as the characters find themselves
among all the goings on at the firehouse. The first
hour of the film is a lot of back of forth, as the characters
move forward, fall back, experience doubt, pain, elation,
and all sorts of other recognizably human emotions.
Finally, in a harrowing forty-five minute rescue sequence,
they tackle one of the most amazingly staged fire sequences
put on film. Despite a massively smaller budget than
Ron Howard's Backdraft, To outdoes its Hollywood
counterpart with realism and sheer bravura storytelling.
It helps that his leading man
is Lau Ching-Wan, who strikes the perfect pitch for
To's ode to common heroism. Alex Fong is equally well-cast,
though his personal subplot (a reunion with his long-lost
daughter) is probably the film's most trying. Carman
Lee is attractive but sadly underused as Lau’s doctor
love interest. This is a very character oriented firefighter
flick that doesn’t succumb to the serial killer theatrics
of its U.S. counterpart. The only thing the firefighters
are fighting for is their own reputation and simply
to stay alive. A very worthy picture that's laudable
for its humanity. (Kozo 1997)