Gripping tale of good cop and robber

STRONG ARM OF THE LAW: Andy Lau plays an inspector in Firestorm who does everything by the book but is determined to nab a robber who targets armoured cars. PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE


    Dec 12, 2013

    Gripping tale of good cop and robber


    Action thriller/118 minutes/

    Opens today

    Rating: 3/5

    The story: Hong Kong police inspector Lui (Andy Lau) is determined to nab baddie Nam (Hu Jun), a crook who has escaped jail multiple times due to a lack of evidence. He must also decide if he can trust his former classmate and ex-convict Shing Bong (Gordon Lam), who shows up with insider information and volunteers to be an informant on an upcoming job.

    THOUGH Chinese films have toyed with big explosions before (as in last year's The Viral Factor), rarely have they reached a scale as large as that in a climactic scene in this movie.

    Entire buildings collapse, vehicles fly up in the air and the ground eventually caves in on itself.

    It is a destructive scene that is almost on a par with big blow-ups featured in major Hollywood blockbusters such as the Transformers movies, even if some of the computer-generated imagery here is a little patchy.

    For action-film fans, it is exhilarating to watch, though the scene drags on for far too long.

    Still, going by the amount of fiery spectacle alone, the film manages to stand apart from the typical Hong Kong police actioner, despite the familiar-sounding premise.

    Here, the always-reliable leading man Andy Lau plays police inspector Lui, a cool cop role reminiscent of his part in the now-iconic Infernal Affairs (2002).

    At 52, the actor still has what it takes to serve up some mean action sequences (well choreographed by veteran Chin Kar Lok), while looking his usual suave self.

    But it is the character's moral struggles that make him compelling to watch. A principled cop, he diligently does everything by the book, including the follow-up paperwork for all his cases, which his subordinates deem both tedious and pointless. "It's the rules," he repeatedly reminds them.

    But his stance wavers when a master crook named Nam (Hu Jun) gets away, time and again, with major crimes - including robbing bank armoured cars in broad daylight - thanks to his ability to rid the scene of all evidence.

    In one memorable sequence, Nam waltzes into the police station after committing another armoured-car robbery, on the pretense of returning a dropped cop badge.

    As he continues to test Lui's limits, the inspector must decide between keeping to the straight and narrow as a law-abiding cop, and doing what he feels is morally justifiable as a human being.

    The unevenly paced film is not without its flaws.

    A big twist about two thirds into the movie comes across as unconvincing.

    Writer-director Alan Yuen also squeezes too much into his script, overly complicating the main storyline.