I wish I’d seen Firestorm 3D a week and a half earlier. In my review of The White Storm, I talked extensively about expectations. The film had been sold as X and turned out to be Y, which was good but not really what I was looking for. I wanted constant bombastic intensity, but instead I got occasional intensity with long stretches of drama. I should have enjoyed that, but my expectations colored everything.
Hoping to keep myself from being disappointed again, I went into Firestorm 3D without expectations. From the name, I obviously made some assumptions about the content, but I wanted to avoid going down the same road.
And I made the right decision. Others went in with certain expectations and came out disappointed. I came out elated, because Firestorm 3D is exactly what I wanted The White Storm to be.
[For the next month, we will be covering the 2014 New York Asian Film Festival and the Japan-centric Japan Cuts. Click here for more information, and check back here and here for all of the Asian film coverage you can shake a stick at.]
Firestorm 3D (風暴)
Director: Alan Yuen
Country: Hong Kong
Firestorm 3D doesn’t have a story. It has a series of events that allow it to crash as many cars and blow as many things up as possible. Andy Lau plays a cop who seems like a good guy but then does something bad to serve what he believes is the greater good and then the bad people try to blackmail him and then he does more bad things and then explosions. His character is actually not a particularly good guy, but you still root for him because he’s the protagonist and no one else is really a good guy either. “Goodness” doesn’t really matter. The complexity of his character is never explored and is also irrelevant. The little bits of emotion that the film attempts to portray aren’t really successful, but the only thing that matters about them is their basic existence. Something bad happens, music swells, Andy Lau looks sad, and boom: motivation for him to really go after the bad guys. Cue explosions.
The idea of collateral damage has no place in Firestorm 3D’s pseudo-narrative. The constant firefights, even when they happen in public places, only seem to affect people directly tied to the story. The only exception is an innocent bystander used as a hostage and then shot, just to remind the audience who the villains are. But even when those same villains are shooting rocket launchers indoors, no one stops to think about the residents who are probably now dead. Did it hurt a cop? No? Doesn’t matter. Yes? Was it Andy Lau? No? Doesn’t matter. Almost everyone serves as cannon fodder for one side or the other. Which leads to a ridiculously high body count, because the Hong Kong police as portrayed in this film are not particularly good at their jobs.
I couldn’t help but think of Cold Eyes as I watched the first half of Firestorm 3D, since the tracking of suspects played a major role in the early action. Andy Lau and co. aren’t the trackers themselves, but they rely on the intel that others bring in. It actually made those sequences more interesting to watch because I transplanted some of the awesome scenes from Cold Eyes onto the never-seen people presumably doing much of the work. In the second half, there’s no more need for that, because hell is unleashed and everyone within a 50-mile radius could hear those explosions and find those guys. But once they actually get to the operation, they’re not all that competent. Even Andy Lau isn’t all that great, with a complete inability to find enough evidence to convict anyone of anything. There’s no real police work in Firestorm 3D, only bullets.
But don’t think I’m complaining about the bullets, because I’m really not. The action scenes that everything in Firestorm 3D is in service of are totally badass. The $20 million budget is peanuts in America, but it’s huge in Asia, and that money goes to the only place where it matters: wanton destruction. Dozens (hundreds?) of extras to be mowed down, guns and bullets to mow them down, a fleet of vehicles to be crashed and crunched, and explosion after explosion after explosion; a firestorm indeed.
I can’t actually speak to the quality of the 3D (I missed the 3D NYAFF screening), but I’ve heard nothing but bad things about it. I watched it in 2D, but I kept the 3D in mind, though, and only noticed a handful of moments that would have utilized the effect at all. Gravity this is not.
Regardless, I highly recommend Firestorm, and here we return to the idea of expectations. There are plenty of people who will hate the movie, or at least intensely dislike it. The film is violence and explosions for the sake of violence and explosions. The traditional cops-and-robbers distinction may function as a basic moral compass, but when this many people die, everyone is a bad guy. But who cares? Anyone who wants something emotional to back the bouts of intense violence should look to The White Storm instead. That film goes into the depth and complexities of characters who are forced to do bad things in the service of good. Firestorm does no such thing. All it does is give two hours of carnage and destruction. But sometimes that’s all you want, and if you’re just in the mood for explosions, Firestorm has got your back.