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Sky on Fire

Sky on Fire (2016)

Daniel Wu is on fire in Sky on Fire.

Chinese: 沖天火  
Year: 2016  
Director: Ringo Lam Ling-Tung
Producer: Kenny Chau, Jacqueline Liu
Writer: Ringo Lam Ling-Tung
Action: Cheung Ping-Chun

Daniel Wu, Joseph Chang, Amber Kuo, Zhang Jingchu, Zhang Ruoyun, Fan Kuang-Yao, Philip Keung Ho-Man, Lai Yiu-Cheung, Eddie Cheung Siu-Fai, Li Hai-Tao, Joman Chiang Cho-Man, Jim Chim Sui-Man, Chung King-Fai, Batu, Michelle Wai, Timmy Hung Tin-Ming, Michael Chan

The Skinny: Supremely disappointing thriller from Ringo Lam that makes Wild City look like an award-winning masterpiece. Decent car stunts and a pretty awesome English title are not enough to outweigh the overplotted story, inane characters and stupid everything else. Enjoy the title but skip the movie.
by Kozo:

Ringo Lam returns with Sky on Fire, his second film after a decade-long hiatus. Maybe he should have taken more time off. Lam's previous film Wild City was an unremarkable comeback, yet it was still a decent appetizer for better work from the man who made such gritty and emotionally-complex films as City on Fire and Prison on Fire. However, despite a title that alludes to those classics, Sky on Fire is a morass of byzantine plotting, overwritten relationships, and characters behaving stupidly. The action is OK, especially during scenes involving vehicular destruction, but the film lacks the psychological or emotional underpinning to make the action anything more than perfunctory. Lam's other favored aesthetic, the violent exploitation mode best seen in Full Contact, isn't on offer either. The positives to this disappointment: I don't know, I'll get back to you when I figure out what they are.

Like Wild City, which also featured Lam as the primary screenwriter, Sky on Fire has a packed-to-the-gills story, but unlike Wild, Sky fails at developing any of its themes. Daniel Wu stars as Tinbo (one character in his Chinese name means "sky", hmmm), the security chief for Sky One, a high-tech skyscraper housing a same-named tech-industrial conglomerate. Sky One has developed something called Ex-Stem Cells, which supposedly can cure any cancer, and when the film opens, a gang of thieves is attempting to steal the technology. It’s a semi-inside job, though; the gang leader is Ziwan (Zhang Ruoyun), whose father Dr. Poon pioneered the Ex-Stem Cells but perished in a Sky One fire five years ago (another “sky on fire” reference). The fire was also responsible for the scarring of Dr. Gao Yu (Zhang Jingchu), who was one of Dr. Poon’s protégés along with her husband and Sky One's current leader Dr. Tang (Fan Guang-Yao).

Tinbo was also present at the Sky One fire five years ago, and his intervention is why Gao Yu is only scarred and not dead. The two now share a solid friendship, and Tinbo is somewhat protective of the principled and decent Gao Yu. Also a factor in Tinbo’s loyalty is the fact that he lost his wife (Michelle Wai) to cancer, so he wants Sky One’s research to help others. However, life at Sky One ain’t all roses and daisies because Dr. Tang is a rat bastard, and employs evil dudes like the menacing Wolf (Li Haotian), who’s dispatched to seek retribution upon Ziwan and his crew (which includes Lai Yiu-Cheung and Keung Ho-Man). This is sad because Ziwan was once close to Dr. Tang and Gao Yu – after all, they were Dr. Poon’s protégés and Ziwan is Dr. Poon’s son. And now one is trying to steal his dad’s tech while the other two are in an ice-cold marriage. Oh, the horror of a broken family.

Also concerned with family is Jia (Joseph Chang), whose adopted sister Jane (Amber Kuo) has cancer. The pair journey to Hong Kong from Taiwan in search of Sky One's help, and Jia immediately does stupid crap like hijacking trucks carrying Ex-Stem Cells and terrorizing anyone who gets in his way, from Tinbo to Tang to Wolf to probably even Jane, if she annoys him enough. When we first meet Jia, he’s raging at the sky (which isn’t on fire, but Jia probably is), yelling, “Whhhyyyyyy?” This is a desperate man, driven by a secret love for his adopted sister, but unfortunately Jane strikes up an affinity with Ziwan. Will Jane be cured? Will she realize Jia’s love for her or hook up with Ziwan? Will Ziwan, Gao Yu and Tang ever reconcile? Will Tinbo side with his employer Tang or all the nice people? And will someone ever solve Dr. Poon’s murder?

Oh, that’s right, Dr. Poon didn’t die by accident during the Sky One fire – he was actually murdered. No matter, the murderer is disclosed in an efficient flashback that ruins any suspense. Then again, Sky on Fire needs to be quick about its story points because it has waaaaaaay too much going on. Ringo Lam develops the story through flashbacks, dialogue asides and the occasional action sequence, but everything adds up poorly. The emotions feel routine and lack the complexity and conflict one associates with Ringo Lam. Daniel Wu's Tinbo, in particular, is kind of empty. His conflict is explained up front but there's never any tension about what he'll do because everything is so black and white. Tang is bad, his lackey Wolf is bad, and everyone else is good up to and including Jia – who’s a loose cannon but in a good way. There's no exploration or revelation of character here, just actors occupying static types.

Tone and storytelling are also odd. The film lacks intensity, and the dramatic moments are weak. Story turns are bizarre; after trying to kill one another, everyone just goes home like it's no big deal. Then, rather unsurprisingly, the bad guys just show up at someone's home to, I don't know, kill them. Or people just go back to Sky One where their enemies are obviously waiting to pull guns on them again. The victims in slasher films aren't this stupid. Also, where are the cops? People brandish firearms and get into massive car wrecks at the base of Sky One but cops never show up to arrest anyone. Is Sky One its own sovereign nation outside of Hong Kong/China jurisdiction? It's always Sky One's security team dealing with stuff – which sucks for them, because their boss Tinbo obviously stopped being a company man in Act One. Someone revoke this man's security badge! Your last acid trip made more sense than this movie.

Sky on Fire literally ends with the sky on fire, which means you can treat yourself to another shot of liquor – go ahead, you've earned it for sitting through this mess. It's hard to really understand what drove Ringo Lam to write and direct this film. There's simply too much going on and he can't cover his bases effectively. Minus a few obvious exceptions, Ringo Lam's best works were character-based rather than story-based, but with Sky on Fire and Wild City it seems he's going for a middle-of-the-road approach, with stock character types jammed into overwritten stories. It would be best if Lam committed himself to one artistic direction; either make stylish commercial films or dial it back for a character-based genre piece like his best films from years ago. Remember those? I do so want that Ringo Lam back. Oh, I finally found a positive about the movie: It's called Sky on Fire. If it's any consolation, you can enjoy the title without seeing the actual film. (Kozo, 4/2017)

  Copyright ©2002-2017 Ross Chen