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Dry Wood Fierce Fire

A lobby card from Dry Wood Fierce Fire
Chinese: 乾柴烈火  
Year: 2002
Director: Wilson Yip Wai-Shun
Producer: Raymond Wong Bak-Ming
Writer: Wilson Yip Wai-Shun, Derek Kwok Chi-Kin, Keith He, Eileen Yeung
Cast: Louis Koo Tin-Lok, Miriam Yeung Chin-Wah, Flora Chan Wai-Shan, Cheung Tat-Ming, Wyman Wong Wai-Man, Yuen King-Tan, Joe Lee Yiu-Ming, Lo Meng, Matt Chow Hoi-Kwong, Chapman To Man-Chat, Wong Yat-Fei, Lee Fung, Monica Lo Suk-Yi, Soi Cheang Pou-Soi, Sharon Chan Man-Chi
The Skinny:

While sometimes forced and a little clumsy, this ultra-light romantic comedy features an amiable comic tone and a fun pairing of Miriam Yeung and Louis Koo. It's not up to director Wilson Yip's best work, but it doesn't really try to be.

by Kozo:

The comparison was inevitable. Both are cute, suddenly bankable female popstars with successful singing careers, and both have made romantic comedy their genre of choice. However, Miriam Yeung and Sammi Cheng are not clones of one another. If anything, their success is just indicative of another type of duplication: the sudden proliferation of Needing You clones.

Dry Wood Fierce Fire seems to have a lot in common with that seminal 2000 romantic comedy. It features an offbeat, slightly strange female lead in Miriam Yeung, and a handsome male lead in Louis Koo. The two play coworkers in an office setting, and like Needing You the threat of gossip and office politics is always around. Furthermore, the two don't have a lot in common at first, but form a burgeoning friendship due to mutual respect and a few convenient plot devices. Then a third party (played by Flora Chan) gets in the way, so our two heroes must admit their feelings or face life without each other. Or something like that. Yep, just like Needing You.

Alice (Miriam Yeung) works for "Ladies," a female-only magazine. However, publisher Michelle (Flora Chan) decides to merge "Ladies" with "Gents", an all-male magazine that employs Ryan (Louis Koo) as one of the chief editors. As you'd expect, this leads to your standard male/female office politics, but the quirky quotient is upped thanks to Alice's status as a fourth-generation Chinese herbologist. That means Miriam Yeung gets to spend a good third of the film engaging in wacky cultural shtick, i.e. prescribing herbs at the office, cooking traditional remedies, and practicing kung-fu all over the place.

Alice's antics around the office provides most of the film's comedy until the film's real plot comes to light. Here it is: Alice finds Ryan incredibly attractive, but he's sort of a lout towards her. Still, the two become friends when Ryan falls for Michelle and vows to win her love. Alice decides to help Ryan win Michelle, not noticing until it's too late that her own affection is growing stronger. Then Ryan must choose between the two women. Who didn't see that coming?

Like all romantic comedies, the fun comes not in the outcome of the film, but in the journey. In that, Dry Wood Fierce Fire stalls, as the buildup to the eventual blessed union consists of wacky shtick, some more wacky shtick, and then even more wacky shtick. Ryan and Alice shop for furniture but stop to fight with a beggar (Cheung Tat-Ming). They engage in Three's Company-type antics when Michelle visits Ryan, and Alice must hide herself in the fridge. They get their hands stuck together with epoxy, which means we get a short sequence of them holding hands. The comedy is certainly agreeable and fun, but nothing new occurs here.

Director Wilson Yip has a track record for terrific handling of character. That skill is lost here because he's directing a romantic comedy. When dealing with the horror trappings of Bio-Zombie or the cop soap opera of Bullets Over Summer, Yip has brought hidden depths to typically character-free genres. However, the usual romantic comedy situations at work here are too mechanical to allow for any hidden depths. There is the occasional moment that accomplishes much more (a dinner scene between Alice, Ryan and her parents is surprisingly affecting), but those moments are buried beneath recycled romantic comedy devices.

Still, the performers shore up the film's laziness. Louis Koo has shown surprising comedic instinct. In contrast to usual "aw-shucks" romantic leads Aaron Kwok or Leon Lai, Koo has shown the willingness to lampoon his own lady-killer image. His performances in this film and La Brassiere have opened up a whole new range of roles for him.

And, Miriam Yeung is a charming performer despite her limited repertoire of mouthy, innanely perky characters. Her comparison to Sammi Cheng is an understandable, but ultimately questionable one. Superficially, the two resemble one another, but the characters they play are quite different. Yeung is the quintessential "jade girl", the girl-next-door who charms thanks to her perky, pure-hearted attitude. Cheng's characters seem to have more complex emotions, and her acting style is natural and even deceptively subtle. Yeung is likable, but Cheng is currently the better actress (though Marry a Rich Man could make you think otherwise).

This doesn't mean that Yeung is a bad actress. She's actually quite winning and likable, though one wonders if she can handle anything else besides mouthy romantic leads. Her career thus far hasn't really required her to do more than pout, mug and smile. Hopefully a role will come her way that actually requires her to act. She just might have the ability to pull it off. (Kozo 2002)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Widesight Entertainment
Cantonese and Mandarin Language
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable Chinese and English Subtitles
Deleted Scene
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image courtesy of Mandarin Films Limited
back to top Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen