Film Review: Sky on Fire

Deadly battle over a secret cancer cure pits competing interests against a corrupt scientist. Good action helps an otherwise old-fashioned action thriller from Hong Kong veteran Ringo Lam.
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Director Ringo Lam built his reputation some 30 years ago with hard-hitting action films like City on Fire and Full Alert. His latest includes several sensational sequences, but Sky on Fire sags when it's time to tell a story. Fans will forgive the plotting to revel in Lam's outstanding car chases.

Lam, who also wrote the script, focuses this outing on Big Pharma, in particular Sky One, which operates out of a towering skyscraper. When a secret shipment is hijacked by fake cops, it's up to security chief Tin-po (Daniel Wu) to figure out what's going on.

Part of the answer lies in a deadly lab fire that killed a scientist perfecting "ex stem cells" that can cure cancer. His assistant Gao Yu (Zhang Jin Chu) continues his work. Now married to evil, imperious Sky One head Tang (Fan Kuang Yao), Gao is fighting suicidal impulses.

The dead scientist's son Poon (Zhang Ruo Yun), determined to liberate the stem cells for the people, leads rebels against Sky One. Wandering into the fight is poor truck driver Lin Chia-Chia (Joseph Chang Hsiao Chuan), desperate to save his sister Jane (Amber Kuo Tsai Chieh), who is wasting away from cancer.

Fights, chases, kidnappings, shootouts and explosions follow as Lam juggles one side against the other. The director excels in taut, pounding car chases, building frankly terrifying stunts that fling his actors about like dummies. A memorably vicious fight inside a sort of seaside convenience store keeps shifting from one side to the other as new characters enter the fray.

Lam isn't as confident with big set-pieces lifted from the Mission: Impossible playbook. Poor special effects don't help storylines involving breaking into labs and stealing computer files.

Wu, famous in Asian markets for his romance movies, uses a cool, tough front with minimal expression to portray his conflicted security operative. Joseph Chang makes a good impression despite his character's maudlin sacrifices. Of the supporting cast, Li Hai Tao stands out as a relentless villain.

Much of Lam's script is stuck in the 1980s, when Hong Kong genre pics routinely ground to a halt for teary flashbacks and stickily sentimental confessions. It's too bad the familial crises and broken relationships that make up the backstory couldn't have worked up some energy on their own. Sky on Fire's superior action scenes deserve a better setting.

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